On the surface, a family filing a lawsuit worth $10 million because their son got struck by lightning sounds almost frivolous. But the case of nine-year-old Alex Hermann, who was struck at soccer practice in late August, shows the hues of gray in these particular types of situations.
What happened to Hermann is tragic. According to KXAN, his injuries are severe—and doctors believe they may be permanent:
An attorney for Alex Hermann’s family says the boy was struck directly in the stomach. He suffered severe burns and doctors believe he has permanent brain damage because he did not get enough oxygen from the time he was knocked out until the CPR process started. Alex cannot speak, hear or move his legs, attorney Mark Levin says. He can only react to pain.
It’s a horrible story, and while plenty of people seem sympathetic to the boy’s plight—and that of his family—the attorney’s statements to KXAN also anticipate the potential backlash:
“I believe that a figure of $10 million is not an outrageous figure when you look at a young man like this who is going to need around the clock care for the next possibly 20 years,” said Mark Levin, the attorney representing the Hermann family. “You can tell from his hospital bill being $500,000 in two weeks what his medical care is going to be like over his lifetime, and that’s all got to come out the parents pocket whatever doesn’t come out of insurance.”
We’re accustomed to viewing lawsuits with big numbers attached to them as being unreasonable, and the comments on the KXAN story, Reddit, and elsewhere demonstrate that same viewpoint. Statements range from “This is just wrong” to “Is this for real” or worse (describing a severely injured nine-year-old’s family as having “hit the lottery”), but it’s worth considering the arguments made in the lawsuit, which contends that the league was negligent in preparing for the possibility that lightning could strike.
Lightning detection is significantly more sophisticated in 2014 than simply looking up to the sky: lightning detection systems are relatively inexpensive, and the Lake Travis Youth Association, the lawsuit alleges, failed to use one. These systems are common—a quick look through weather procedures for various youth sports leagues around the country suggests that they’re nearly universal in application—and are designed to prevent the exact situation that caused Hermann’s injuries. Similarly, the lawsuit alleges that the league failed to appoint a weather monitor who would make the decision about whether or not to allow the children onto the field under the conditions.
It’s not unreasonable for parents to expect that a youth league will observe established safety procedures such as these. If the Lake Travis Youth Association is in the position to install a ThorGuard system on LYTA’s Field of Dreams or appoint someone to determine whether to let the kids onto the field, and they didn’t do it, it’s a worthwhile question to ask if they bear some responsibility for what occurred. Of course, there are still facts that need to be determined in this case, but the notion that any family who sues in a situation like this is looking to cash in a “lottery ticket” ignores a lot of context.