School district to pay more than $1 million to family of boy injured by potato gun

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BY SONYA HERRERA
Daily Post Staff Writer

The parents of a student who was permanently injured after he shot himself in the eye with a potato gun at JLS Middle School have approved a settlement of more than $1 million from Palo Alto Unified School District.

“The district has tentatively agreed to settle the case without any admission of liability,” said Mark Davis, the San Jose attorney representing the district.

The family of student Michael Zhang sued the school district after the boy accidentally shot himself in the eye with a potato gun while doing an experiment with his math class. JLS Middle School math teachers Elizabeth Fee and Sue Duffek were also named in the suit, along with Cass Apple, a volunteer who helped conduct the experiment. Davis said Apple is a parent of one of the school’s teachers.

A class experiment

The potato gun was homemade for the class experiment. Students would shoot the potato in the air, according to Davis. Students calculated the velocity and speed at which the potato traveled based on the amount of time it spent in the air.

The boy’s family said the device, air-pressurized with a bicycle pump, got stuck during the May 12, 2017 experiment at the school at 480 E. Meadow Drive. The boy looked to see why it was stuck when the gun went off and the potato hit him in the eye.

The boy was left with significant, permanent injuries, according to his lawyer, personal injury attorney Paul Van Der Walde of the Campbell firm Caputo and Van Der Walde.

He was treated at the Stanford Hospital emergency room and at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami.

Davis said the school had previously conducted the experiment for years without incident.

‘Defective’ potato gun

The suit was filed Feb. 7, 2018 in Santa Clara County Superior Court. Prior to the lawsuit, the boy’s family filed a claim against the school district for an amount exceeding $5 million, according to the complaint.

The family said in the claim that the teachers allowed students to shoot the homemade, “defective” potato guns without safety training, proper supervision or eye protection and allowing Apple, a non-employee without a teaching credential, to run the activity on campus.

Davis said the school has since stopped doing the experiment.

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