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Former student sues Notre Dame over fall in dorm stairwell, the second such suit since 2019

University of Notre Dame golden dome
Jennifer Weingart

Rocco Campanelli was a junior in O’Neill Hall in 2021 when he said he was leaving a party on the second floor of the dorm. But the stairway was crowded with other students leaving the event and the crush allegedly caused Campanelli to fall over the stairway’s handrail 20 feet down.

Campanelli says he fractured his shoulder, arm and pelvis and is now suing the university, claiming Notre Dame is negligent for not maintaining safe stairwells and for promoting a “fraternity-like party atmosphere” in residence halls.

Robert Dassow, an attorney representing Campanelli, said the suit focuses on Notre Dame’s negligence for not maintaining stairwells that are up to building safety codes. Specifically, the suit targets the open design of staircases in O’Neill which have space between the stairs going up and the stairs going down.

“They were partying in the dorms and it wasn’t like anybody pushed him intentionally. It’s just that the stairwell was packed,” Dassow said.

O’Neill hall was built in 1996 and renovated in 2014. The complaint says the dorm, like others on campus, has unreasonably low handrails and no guardrails.

The suit also accuses Notre Dame of negligence for promoting a “fraternity-like party atmosphere” in dorms on campus, potentially leading to large numbers of drunk students on the stairs at the same time.

Dassow said Campanelli “had a few beers” the night he fell, but noted he was over 21 at the time.

For its part, Notre Dame has not yet responded to Campanelli’s claims in court. However, in a statement to WVPE, the university said “We did not cause nor are we responsible for Mr. Campanelli's fall, and we intend to vigorously defend against this lawsuit.”

But Campanelli is not the only person to be injured falling from a stairway on campus in recent years. In 2014, a man was rushed to the hospital in critical condition after falling through a stairwell in the Main Building.

A few years later, a student named Sean Tennant filed a lawsuit after he suffered permanent brain damage from a fall in Sorin Hall, another men’s dorm on campus, in 2019. Much like Campanelli’s suit, Tennant alleged the stairways in Sorin were not in compliance with proper safety regulations and that Notre Dame condoned a culture of partying in residence halls.

In fact, one filing in Tennant’s suit claims that Notre Dame in 2010 and 2013 conducted assessments to look at big-picture building safety concerns. Both reports allegedly concluded the dorms did not have sufficient safety designs for handrails and guardrails, yet Notre Dame allegedly failed to act on those recommendations.

Dassow also representing Tennant’s family in that suit, which was settled out of court with Notre Dame last year. Dassow did not disclose the terms of the settlement.

Campanelli’s suit also does not specify damages. According to his attorney, Campanelli graduated the university this spring.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.