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New Jersey Court Sets Youth Sports Lawsuit Precedent

According to a New Jersey appeals court, the family of a 12-year-old lacrosse player cannot sue the 11-year-old responsible for his broken arm. But the ruling may have a greater impact than just this one case.

According to NorthJersey.com, the court noted this decision was the first related to the liability of child-inflicted injuries during sports competitions in New Jersey, and that their ruling will establish standards for future cases.

"It would be unfair to hold children who engage in such sporting activities to the same expectations and standards of conduct as adult athletes," the court said. "Nor should the prospect of a lawsuit crop up every time that a referee calls a foul on a child who is learning how to play the game."

In this specific case, the injury was sustained during a recreational match between fifth and sixth graders in Burlington County. The 12-year-old had possession of the ball when the 11-year-old ran at him and subsequently broke his forearm. The 12-year-old player's family filed suit against the 11-year-old and his father, alleging his reckless behavior caused the injury.

"Although [the 11-year-old] may well have committed a foul…that mistake must be considered in context," the court said. "It is one of those unfortunate occasional consequences of minors playing in a rough-and-tumble sport."

New Jersey's Supreme Court has made similar rulings. When a player in an adult softball game was injured in a home plate collision, the court said there was no liability because physical contact is inherent in sports and that a high level of recklessness is needed for a court to award damages.

However, in another case, the court allowed a suit to move forward after a golfer was struck by another player's tee shot. The golfer who hit the ball did not wait for the other player to move before swinging.

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