PROVO — Just because a downed bat isn't foaming from his little mouth doesn't mean he's any less dangerous than a dog with frothy chops.

That's part of the argument of the Alpine School District, which has been sued for allegedly failing to quickly address a bat problem at Lehi High School last fall.

In their response recently filed in 4th District Court, the school district's attorney argued that student Chase Jackson should have known about the inherent dangers of grounded, germ-carrying bats.

"(Alpine School District) owed no actionable legal duty to (Jackson) because the alleged danger was obvious," according to an answer filed last week in 4th District Court. "Any injury or damage sustained by (Jackson) was caused by the fault of (Jackson)."

Utah law states there's no requirement for an agency to alert someone to dangers or hazards on their land if the danger is obvious, explained Reed Stringham, assistant Utah attorney general.

And bat carcasses or sick bats — those that don't try to avoid humans — are obviously hazardous, Stringham said.

In fall 2007, Lehi High School became infested with hundreds of winged creatures that flew through the school and occasionally dropped dead on the lawns or became sick and just flapped around on the ground.

The school district said that as soon as they learned about the problem they called the county health department and sent out letters to parents warning students not to touch the bats, Alpine School District spokeswoman Ronda Bromley said.

Jackson's mother, Traci Turner, maintains she never got such a letter, said her attorney, Matthew Howell.

Within weeks, all the live bats were shut out of the school and the dead ones gathered. Any students who might have touched the bats were instructed to tell teachers and get shots, Bromley said.

Jackson — who caught a bat at school in September and played with it for about two hours, showing it to other students — had to go through a five-shot regiment to ensure he didn't have rabies, which is fatal by the times symptoms develop.

Besides protection under the Governmental Immunity Act — which prevents lawsuits against governments due to their performance or failure to perform governmental functions — Stringham said he asked for a jury to decide the proportion of blame that falls on them versus Jackson.

Howell said he doesn't think Jackson should have to carry any of that blame and will meet with Stringham today to discuss the case.

"Schools have an obligation to do more than just protect the students from (things) adults may think are obvious," Howell said. "There are a number of things that are obvious to people that aren't obvious to children, whether they're 5 or 17. And even if they are obvious, they still have a duty to keep them out."


E-MAIL: sisraelsen@desnews.com