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No Liability for the 11 Year Old

Posted by Britt Simon on Dec 11 2014

This finding of an 11 year old's liability is fact specific.  Here, in a lacrosse game, the one child hit another child and caused an injury. The court stated that the specific facts of the case could not support that the eleven year old was "reckless".   People please remember, children do not have the mental capacity of an adult.  That's why we call them children!  And lets remember that when we have our children learning to play such physical games,  there is an inherent risk. Children break rules (and apparently bones too).

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No Liability For 11-Year-Old Lacrosse Player in Game Injury

, New Jersey Law Journal

In a case of first impression regarding the tort liability of a child who injures another child while they are participating in a youth sports activity, a New Jersey appeals court held Dec. 8 that an 11-year-old lacrosse player who allegedly struck a 12-year-old opponent during a game and broke his arm cannot be held liable on account of his age.

The panel in C.J.R. v. G.A. agreed with a lower court judge who threw out the case on summary judgment that “the defendant minor breached no legal duty in causing the plaintiff minor to sustain this unfortunate sports-related injury.”

A “reasonable jury could not find the facts of this particular case here rising to a level of recklessness that would or should make this 11-year-old lacrosse novice monetarily liable for his misguided actions on the field,” said Presiding Appellate Division Judge Jack Sabatino, joined by Judges Marie Simonelli and Michael Guadagno.

“Although C.J.R.’s injury is regrettable, it is one of those unfortunate occasional consequences of minors playing in a rough-and-tumble sport,” Sabatino said.

The court said that in reaching its decision, it was guided by two distinct strands of law: “the cases establishing the liability of adults who intentionally or recklessly injure another person in a sporting activity; and the cases that limit the potential tort liability of minors, depending upon their age and other characteristics.”

The incident occurred May 7, 2011, near the end of a recreational league game between C.J.R.’s Medford, N.J., team, which was in the lead, and G.A.’s Marlton, N.J., squad, according to the appeals court’s opinion. G.A., at 5 feet and 76 pounds, was two to four inches shorter and 14 pounds lighter than C.J.R., and both their teams were “B” level, geared toward less-advanced players.

According to deposition testimony, there was less than 20 seconds left on the clock when C.J.R. got the ball and started running toward the sideline, trying to keep possession while time ran out. G.A. then supposedly began moving diagonally across the field toward C.J.R., whose mother testified he was running at “full force,” with his head tucked down and his arms at his side, according to the opinion.

According to C.J.R.’s coach, G.A. hit C.J.R. from behind across the midsection with his helmet or his stick, also striking C.J.R.’s left arm and causing him to fall to the ground, the opinion said. The coach further testified that G.A. “bounced off” C.J.R. and ended up on the ground too.

With about seven seconds left to go, the referees threw down penalty flags and shortly after, declared the game over but did not call a penalty on G.A., who was escorted off the field, the opinion said. C.J.R. was brought by ambulance to a nearby emergency room where he had open reduction surgery with a rod inserted into his arm.

He missed a week to 10 days of school, wearing a “long-arm cast” for several weeks, then a “short-arm cast,” the opinion said. He was left with a four-centimeter scar, periodic bouts of pain and residual difficulties in flexing his forearm up and down, he claimed.

He and his father, Christopher Rees, sued in Burlington County Superior Court, alleging G.A. acted recklessly and should thus be held liable under the same tort liability principles that govern adult sporting events, according to the opinion. They contended that G.A. violated the rules of the game by blindsiding C.J.R. and using a disallowed “take-out check,” in which, according to the rules of the game, a player lowers his head or shoulder “with the force and intent to put the other player on the ground,” the opinion said.

In granting summary judgment, Superior Court Judge Marc Baldwin called G.A.’s age “critical,” indicating he might have decided differently if G.A. was 17 and had a more mature understanding of the consequences of his behavior.

The appeals panel said there were no reported opinions analyzing tort liability for one minor harming another during a youth sports event but the state Supreme Court recognized a recklessness standard for adult athletes in the 1994 case Crawn v. Campo, where a base runner crashed into the catcher at home plate during an adult pickup softball game, and the 2001 case Schick v. Ferolito, where a golfer was hit in the head by a tee shot.

The appeals panel noted that children younger than 7 are protected from tort liability by a rebuttable presumption that they are incapable of negligence. Above that age, a fact-sensitive and context-specific approach applies, Sabatino said.

In addition to G.A.’s age, Sabatino mentioned other relevant factors: that he was playing at a program level meant for less-experienced players, that the game was close, that time was running out with no way for G.A.’s team to win unless it got the ball back, and that there was no preexisting enmity with C.J.R.

The panel’s “double-layered” approach factored in whether an adult could be sued for the same conduct and “whether it would be reasonable in the particular youth sports setting to expect a minor of the same age and characteristics as the defendant to refrain from the injurious physical contact.”

The court took judicial notice that children often need years to learn the rules of a sport and will inevitably commit fouls because of “inexperience, youthful exuberance, lack of self-discipline, clumsiness, immaturity, frustration,” or some combination of those things.

That propensity is compounded in sports, such as lacrosse, that have complicated rules and a high degree of physical contact, making it unfair to hold them to the same standards as adult athletes, the appeals court found.

Further, it would unduly discourage youth participation if the prospect of a lawsuit cropped up “every time that a referee calls a foul on a child who is learning how to play the game,” Sabatino said.

But Sabatino also mentioned the legitimate safety concerns associated with youth sports, including concussions, saying “we by no means intend by this opinion to endorse or promote a laissez-faire attitude that is oblivious to the risks of such injuries” nor to overlook efforts to make things safer.

If you've been injured and would like to speak with a NJ Personal Injury attorney, call today for your free consultation 800-709-1131.

Injured? Contact Us Now!

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