The annual Harvard-Yale football game yesterday will be known not for its memorable play or a sudden-death win, but for a sudden death of another kind: A young woman was killed by the driver of a U-Haul truck that was transporting beer kegs and other tailgating supplies to the game, held at Yale University this year. The annual event between the two Ivy League schools is 128 years old, has long been an institution among alumni of the schools, and is known as “The Game” among students and alumni.
The woman who was killed in the accident was identified by New Haven police as Nancy Barry, who lived in Salem, Massachusetts. According to a spokesperson from Yale University, Ms. Barry was not an alumna of either Harvard or Yale. Witnesses told police that Ms. Barry was run over by the truck as it accelerated when turning a corner. She was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital, and pronounced dead shortly after 10 a.m. The two other victims suffering injuries were identified as Sarah Short, a 30-year-old Yale student from New Haven, and Elizabeth Dernbach, who was reported to be a staff member at Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education. Ms. Short suffered life-threatening injuries and was listed in critical but stable condition at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and Ms. Dernbach sustained minor injuries and was treated briefly at the Hospital of Saint Raphael in New Haven.
This fatality and these injuries are far too common. As a Boston, Massachusetts car accident lawyer, I can assure my readers that while most motor vehicle accidents involve vehicle-to-vehicle collisions, a great many also involve pedestrian injuries. This is especially so at events where large numbers of cars, trucks, and pedestrians are concentrated together at public events – like football games and concerts. Tailgating at these events – drinking and eating – is almost as popular as the events themselves. The lethal combination of too many vehicles, too many people and alcohol, is a deadly combination. In fact, it is the perfect storm for what happened yesterday. While “legacy” events such as the Harvard-Yale football game, and lesser-known college football games, have for years allowed the open use of alcohol at these events (in practice unregulated to any effective degree,) for a long time now I’ve thought that practice unwise. I should point out that while the driver of the truck that caused this death and these injuries has not yet, to my knowledge, been charged with operating under the influence of alcohol, he was transporting kegs of beer in the rented U-Haul truck he was driving, though he was taken into custody and questioned.
The accident occurred just before 10 a.m. as the truck entered a parking lot near the Yale Bowl and the driver accelerated as he made a turn, a New Haven police spokesperson said. “He accelerated, striking three women, and continued until it hit a parked U-Haul truck. That truck then pushed into another U-Haul truck.” All three trucks were loaded with kegs and other tailgating supplies.
The civil liability exposure for this motor vehicle fatality and these injuries will be extremely high. The New York Times has reported that the driver was a Yale undergraduate and that the U-Haul had been rented by members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. In terms of obtaining financial compensation for the Ms. Barry’s death and for the injuries the other two women suffered, the attorneys representing these victims will look first to any automobile insurance that may have provided bodily injury liability coverage for the driver of the U-Haul truck. Next, attorneys will look to any liability insurance that may have covered the rental of the U-Haul truck, the business that rented the U-Haul truck, and possibly the U-Haul corporation itself. If it were later determined that the accident occurred due to a mechanical defect in the truck or any of its component parts affecting safety, then companies involved in the production, marketing and sale of those components may also become potential defendants. Last, but not least, Yale University might be a potential defendant in any litigation that follows this tragedy.
Why? As a Norfolk County Massachusetts car accident lawyer, I believe a legal argument can be made that Yale University exhibited negligence in allowing U-Haul trucks, kegs of beer, and hard liquor at this event, combined with what many people commented was poor traffic enforcement. Harvard banned U-Haul trucks and alcohol at their tailgating events last year, and beefed up traffic management. But to too many other colleges, the idea of interfering with their beloved football games and tailgating parties, is too much. How popular are some of these tailgating parties? Following yesterday’s tragedy – which was broadcast over speakers at half-time – tailgating continued throughout the game and for more than an hour after the game ended, until police forced people to leave around 5 p.m.