Dodgeball Nose Injury and School District Liability

School district liability for injuries to children has been a controversial topic for a many years. Bullying, fights, lax security—all of these topics have been used as grounds for lawsuits. In a recent suit filed in the New York Supreme Court, the Jamesville-DeWitt School District will attempt to avoid liability for injuries sustained during a gym class dodgeball game.

Game of Dodgeball Leads to Expensive Nose Injury

In January 2013, 5th Grader Yong Seong Cho suffered a broken nose and other facial injuries during a gym class dodgeball game. Cho was struck not by the titular ball, but by another student fleeing the field of play. The incident has reignited the debate surrounding dodgeball, and the game’s place in the 21st century schoolyard.

Cho himself was actively engaged in the match. The game, requiring students to dodge or catch rubber balls thrown at them lest they be declared “out” and relegated to the sidelines, demands focus, attention and more than a little bravery. While Cho’s attention was focused on the game at hand, an autistic student’s attention was focused everywhere but. The student, in fear of being struck by a ball, was running wildly through the gym and eventually ran full-bore into Cho, breaking his nose. Cho never saw him coming.

Doctors were unable to set Cho’s nose at the time he sought treatment, telling his parents that surgery would be necessary and should be delayed until Cho turned 18, for fear of developmental complications. Medical bills are expected to exceed $30,000. Cho’s parents are asking the New York Supreme Court for $300,000 in damages.

School District Liability for Injuries on School Grounds

School district liability for injured children is an ongoing debate. Often insulated by some degree of sovereign immunity, school district liability for injured children is an evolving legal issue. Cho’s parents, per state law, initially filed a claim with the district. Pursuant to that claim, the district reimbursed some—but not all—of Cho’s medical bills. Unhappy with the result of the claim—and the continued presence of dodgeball in the Jamesville-DeWitt School District—the Cho’s filed suit to seek further damages.

Lawsuits stemming from dodgeball incidents are not new. School district liability for injuries to children playing dodgeball has been called into question throughout the country. Districts have wrestled with whether dodgeball is an “appropriate” gym class activity, or whether it is a thinly-veiled form of sanctioned bullying. Similar cases have been successfully filed in California, New Hampshire as well as other areas of New York. Many districts have banned dodgeball and other “human target” games from the school setting.

School liability for injured children, arising from a game of dodgeball or not, will continue to be a flashpoint in the legal system. Changing views on the nature of physical fitness, bullying and a heightened perception of potential liability have irrevocably changed how school districts operate.