Elkhorn school district ordered to pay for student's fall

Lesson was supposed to teach hazards of drinking

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published October. 24, 2006, 8:38 p.m.)

A $149 pair of goggles has cost the Elkhorn Area School District about $29,000 and one student some of her dignity.

In November 2002, during her freshman-year health class, Lisa Voss and other students wore "fatal vision goggles" to simulate the effects of drunkenness.

As part of an activity, the students were to retrieve a tennis ball tossed between rows of desks to show how conducting even simple tasks can be difficult while intoxicated.

Voss tripped on the leg of a desk and fell, breaking three teeth and causing another to fall out completely. Her mouth hit one of the desks.

A Wisconsin appeals court last Wednesday upheld Judge Michael Gibbs' ruling that the school district is liable for damages because known inherent danger existed. The district argued it should be immune from the suit and asked for its dismissal.

"The teacher knew of the perils of conducting the exercise," the decision reads. "The fatal vision goggles distort vision and impair depth perception and sense of balance."

Other students had slipped or fallen during the activity prior to Voss putting on the goggles, the decision reads.

"Lisa, she was a little reluctant to do it," said attorney Marty Harrison, who represented the Voss family. "She was trying to go slowly because of what the other kids did. Almost in her first step, she tripped and fell down and got injured."

Voss had to undergo several dental procedures, including four root canals, following the incident. She was in pain for at least two weeks after the fall and expressed how embarrassed she had been because the damage to her teeth was visible, the decision reads.

Users of the fatal vision goggles will experience "simulation of blurred vision, unreliable reflexes, slow response time and even nausea," according to Web site for Nasco, the Fort Atkinson-based company that makes the product.

Phone calls to Elkhorn Area School District Administrator Greg Wescott, and Elkhorn Area High School Principal Gary Baumann were not immediately returned. High school health teacher Greg Prince, who was not named in the suit, declined to comment about the case or the goggles.

Harrison said he didn't mind the school using the goggles, but suggested they be used in a safer environment without potentially dangerous obstacles nearby.

"I think the dangers of people consuming too much alcohol and driving is an important thing. Education is the best effort to make the public aware of these dangers," Harrison said.

The school stopped using the goggles after the suit was filed in circuit court, Harrison said. It is unclear if the goggles are still in use by the district today.

Reached at home, Marlene Voss, Lisa's mother, said the family did not wish to comment about the case.

 

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