A student was injured by a potato gun at school in 2017. The district will likely pay him $1.5 million. | News | Palo Alto Online |

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A student was injured by a potato gun at school in 2017. The district will likely pay him $1.5 million.

Teen's retina permanently damaged by science experiment

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UPDATE: The school board approved this settlement agreement in closed session on Tuesday, Feb. 25, in a 4-0 vote, with board member Ken Dauber absent.

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The Palo Alto school board will consider approving in closed session next week a $1.5 million settlement with a former student whose eye was permanently damaged during a potato gun science experiment at JLS Middle School in 2017.

Lawyers for the school district filed a settlement notice in December and a judge heard the proposed amounts at a hearing in early January, court records show. The school board discussed the case in closed session on Feb. 11 but took no reportable action.

If the board approves the settlement agreement next Tuesday, the district will pay its maximum exposure of $50,000 and the remainder will be covered by insurance, Superintendent Don Austin said. He declined to comment further.

In a claim filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court in 2018, the parents of the student alleged that the district and teachers breached their duty to conduct the experiment "with reasonable care" and to protect the student from "foreseeable dangers." They also alleged that the adults in the classroom — two math teachers and a volunteer, named as defendants in the lawsuit — failed to provide proper supervision and adequate safety training for the experiment.

The claim alleged that the student, then 13 years old, was participating in a school experiment with homemade potato guns, conducting mathematical calculations based on the distance the potato traveled. When it was the student's turn to operate the gun, he turned a valve to release pressurized air and "nothing happened," the claim states.

"After several seconds the gun suddenly discharged striking (the student) in his face and causing significant permanent injuries," the claim reads.

The incident permanently damaged the student's retina, attorney Paul Van Der Walde said, and caused an orbital fracture, or a traumatic injury to the bone of the eye socket. He was reportedly homebound for several months after the experiment and has since left the school district.

Van Der Walde did not respond to a request for comment.

The total settlement includes attorney's fees and reimbursement for medical expenses. It is also comprised of $475,000 in a series of payments to the former student over the next three decades, starting in 2021. The payments include $30,000 annually for the next five years; $500 monthly for 13 years; $1,000 monthly for 30 years; and a lump sum payment of $177,000 in 2033.

A hearing to formally dismiss the case is set for April.

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Comments

15 people like this
Posted by N E 1 But Anna Eshoo
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 19, 2020 at 5:46 pm

Wow. That’s a lot of money. It’s gotta be tough for the victim — too bad plastic safety glasses weren’t provided as part of the experiment just like the Mythbusters guys used to do.


12 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2020 at 10:49 pm

It stands to reason that our middle school math teachers would allow this to happen. Risk analysis? Error analysis? Growth analysis? Any analysis? All missing...

Write the big checks and and feel like a big-dogs, district admins! Greatest school district in the country!


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2020 at 7:40 am

Two things not covered in the article.

Is the potato gun lesson still continuing, but with safety glasses? Were there safety glasses at the time and if so why did the student not have them on at the time?

This is the type of lesson that makes school and learning memorable. I hope that our students are able to continue to do things like this but with all the safety measures in place.


11 people like this
Posted by Former JLS 2
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2020 at 9:32 am

@Resident,
Sadly, our school district employee and administrative culture is such that they confuse safety with coddling kids. They deliberately confuse family ties with coddling kids in order to avoid having anything to do with parents in high school or any working with families (especially over special needs), and it starts in earnest in middle school.

I totally get why the student is not longer in the district, not because of the incident but because there's no way the student would have avoided the kind of institutional abuse all students whose families try to fix things, hold them accountable, or be treated equitably experience.

That said, I applaud the district for settling and not dragging the family through more. In the past, they would have paid lawyers more than trying to make things right with this injured child, and added insult to injury.

Good luck to the student and his family.


7 people like this
Posted by Potatoes Are Not Just For Eating
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 20, 2020 at 9:35 am

Potatos can be dangerous...even more so when used in conjunction with an old strip of inner tube as in a giant slingshot.

Russets hurt the most & leave unusual shaped bruises while red potatoes are the most practical in terms of consistant size and portability.

Going to a hobby shop & using those model rocket motors to expel grains of rice stored in a packing tube is like shrapnel.

Fun stuff to do when a kid since BB guns are not practical for neighborhood warfare...too many parked cars and residential windows to mar.

More fun than being glued to a smartphone all day or after hours.


1 person likes this
Posted by "teaching" gun culture
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 20, 2020 at 12:27 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2020 at 12:39 pm

I guess this potato gun experience is really a thing nowadays:

Google( potato gun picture diagram )

I wonder, though, if anybody is bothering to calculate the momentum of their projectile. Looking at some of these potato weapons, I'm not surprised by the eye damage and orbital fracture.


11 people like this
Posted by What about the kid?
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 20, 2020 at 12:42 pm

My heart goes out to the young victim and his or her family. It's amazing to see all these ignorant comments about the money (only $50,000 PAUSD) and the experiment, but not one comment about how sad it is that this child was injured and will have to deal with the consequences of this experiment for a lifetime. The dollars can't really compensate him or her for the loss of vision and whatever other damage was done by the skull fracture. By the way, with a structured settlement like this, adjusting for the time value of money greatly reduces the true cost to the insurer.


11 people like this
Posted by An Alternative
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 20, 2020 at 2:56 pm

Instead of using potatoes, switch to styro-foam balls & reduce the velocity...DUH.

OR water balloons.

Then again, some personal injury attorney will probably find fault with harmless projectiles as well.


2 people like this
Posted by "teaching" gun culture
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 20, 2020 at 8:29 pm

Maybe I'm the only one who thinks the use of guns is unacceptable. And certainly does not belong in a school.

Don't care what it is made of, clearly it is capable of injuring people.
Boys and violence, and men teaching violence, a danger to us all.


7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 20, 2020 at 10:01 pm

^ Gravity should be illegal. Clearly it is capable of injuring people.


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