A Lakeville high school student hurt in a car crash during a Nerf Wars competition is suing the school district, alleging that school officials should have taken steps to protect students from what they knew was a dangerous game.
The suit filed this week by Alexander Hughes, now 21, who sustained serious injuries from the 2015 accident, joins one brought last February against the district by the parents of Jacob Flynn and John Price IV, the Lakeville South High School students who died when a vehicle driven by Hughes rolled over multiple times. Hughes and another student survived.
"The school was deeply involved," said Michael Bryant, Hughes' attorney. "They knew stuff. There's easier ways they could have handled things, and they didn't."
The suit alleges that because of the school district's negligence, Hughes has severe and permanent injuries resulting in medical bills, lost wages and limited earning capacity, in addition to "pain, disability, disfigurement, embarrassment and emotional distress." He is seeking more than $50,000 in damages.
In response to Hughes' suit, district spokesman Blois Olson issued a statement that the district and its schools "continue to grieve" for Flynn and Price and "are sympathetic" to Hughes, but that the crash wasn't the district's fault.
"The auto accident … was in no way connected to a sanctioned or supported school activity[;] in fact the single vehicle rollover accident was over two miles away from the school after school was over for the week," the statement said.
Attorneys for Hughes and the Price and Flynn families signed a document last week agreeing to join their cases, since they are similar.
Nerf Wars danger
The fatal crash occurred Dec. 4, 2015, after three members of a Nerf Wars team "kidnapped" Flynn in the Lakeville South parking lot after school.
The kidnapping strategy is used to take a player off school property, considered a safe zone in the game, and shoot them with a Nerf projectile at another spot. The goal is to score points and win money.
With Hughes driving his family's pickup truck, Price or Flynn reached from the back seat to the front, according to court documents, to grab the Nerf gun. Hughes took his right hand off the wheel to push the gun away, and in the process veered over the centerline on 225th Street W., a county road.
He tried to steer back into his lane but was bumped by either Price or Flynn, causing him to overcorrect. The truck went into a ditch and rolled several times, ejecting Price and Flynn.
Law enforcement officials determined that Nerf Wars was a factor in the crash, and no criminal charges were filed.
Bryant said that the issue isn't whether the school district was totally at fault, but how much responsibility it bears vs. other parties.
The suit alleges five counts of negligent failure on the part of the Lakeville district, charging that officials failed to enforce their own rules, implement an anti-Nerf Wars policy, adequately supervise students, warn parents of the game's danger and train employees about Nerf Wars, a common high school game.
Bryant said that other districts either have banned Nerf Wars or warned parents about it. Lakeville officials knew about the game, he said, as shown by an e-mail that the activities director sent to administrators; a school newspaper article; and the removal of spoons (an alternate way to "kill" players is to "stab" them with a spoon) from the cafeteria after students stole them.
Bryant noted that the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in November that the Blake School could be held liable in the death of a man who died after his car was struck by a Blake student driving to a cross-country meet.