ST. PAUL -- Lakeville Area Schools will not be held legally responsible for a fatal 2015 crash involving four students who were playing the last-man-standing game Nerf War.
Anoka County District Judge Bethany Fountain Lindberg last month dismissed all counts in a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district brought by family members of Jacob Flynn and John Price, who died in the Dec. 4, 2015 crash.
As part of the game, Price and two other students “kidnapped” Flynn in the school parking lot after school that day. Five minutes later and about three miles from school, a passenger reportedly bumped driver Alexander Hughes, who crashed the pickup.
Lawyers for Flynn’s and Price’s family members argued the school knew or should have known the game was being played at school and was dangerous. The school, they said, neglected its duty to intervene and protect students.
Seven weeks before the crash, the school’s activities director said in an email to the principal and deans that neighbors were complaining about Nerf Wars being played “in the community.” But that game apparently was not the same contest that students later organized.
Some students testified that they believed a few teachers knew about the game because they were active on Twitter, where the game was being managed.
But at least nine school officials swore in depositions that they did not know about the students’ game. And there were no known complaints about the game affecting the school.
“There is no evidence to support that (Independent School District) 194 had actual knowledge that Nerf War was being played at school or on school grounds,” Fountain Lindberg wrote.
Even if the school did know about the game, the judge added, some parents testified that they knew their child was playing and “believed Nerf War was harmless.”
One legal argument about a failure to supervise the students centered on the “kidnapping” that preceded the fatal crash. The surviving students testified there was an initial struggle but that Flynn got in the truck willingly and the students were “calm” as they left the parking lot.
Fountain Lindberg found that there was no reason the episode should have alarmed the employees who were assigned to monitor the parking lot.
The judge also rejected some of the plaintiffs’ claims on grounds that a school district cannot be sued over policy decisions.
The driver, Hughes, had filed a separate lawsuit against the school district, but it was dismissed after he died of a drug overdose in California last year. His claims then were added to the other families’ lawsuit, but his name later was taken off the suit.
An attorney for the school district told the court it cost the district $24,663 to defend the lawsuit. As the prevailing party, the district is entitled to recover those costs from the plaintiffs. However, each side agreed to cover its own costs when the plaintiffs promised not to appeal the judge’s ruling.