In a case of first impression, a New Jersey state appeals court has ruled that an 11-year-old boy would not be held liable for breaking an opposing player’s arm during a collision in a Burlington County youth lacrosse game.
Writing for the three-judge panel on Monday, Judge Jack Sabatino said this is the first recorded opinion in state history analyzing the liability of a minor who injures another minor in a youth sports activity.
Referees threw penalty flags when an 11-year-old knocked down and hurt an opponent in a lacrosse game between youth teams from Burlington County. The injured boy’s parents sued the Marlton youth and his father over the incident.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of a Medford boy identified only as C.J.R., asserted the Marlton player was “reckless” and “acted negligently” when he committed a foul during the final seconds of a close game.
The suit claimed the Marlton boy, identified as G.A., should be liable for damages under guidelines established by the state Supreme Court for adult sports incidents.
But a state appeals court blocked the lawsuit Monday, upholding a trial judge’s decision in the Marlton boy’s favor.
“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,” the three-judge panel said in a precedent-setting decision. “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.”
The ruling said judges in such cases should consider evidence of recklessness or intent to injure. But it said a young athlete’s age and maturity must also be a factor.
The ruling said G.A.’s actions “must be considered in context,” noting the game was on the line and the boys were in a division for “less-experienced” players. The ruling touched on prior cases that involved home-plate collisions in softball games, errant golf shots and roller rink accidents, among other mishaps.
It said children “will inevitably commit fouls in sporting activities,” and “it would be unfair to hold (them) to the same expectations and standards of conduct as adult athletes.”