A university does not owe a duty to its athletes when they are attending a third-party instructional camp at which its coaching staff has no role in instruction or supervision. In <em><a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Kennedy-Case.pdf" rel="">Kennedy v. Robert Morris University</a></em>, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed summary judgment granted to the university in a case arising out of a cheerleading accident.
The plaintiff was a member of Robert Morris University’s cheerleading team as an incoming freshman in 2010. The coach, Cynthia Hatfield, required the team to attend a cheerleading camp at the University of Scranton that was hosted and conducted by the Universal Cheerleaders Association. During the camp, the plaintiff and three other cheerleaders practiced a new stunt called a “rewind.” The plaintiff was the flyer, and the other three cheerleaders were bases. To successfully perform a rewind, the flyer does a back flip while the bases propel her upward and then safely catch her. On the second attempt of the stunt, the plaintiff fell. Although her bases caught her body, her head hit the ground. The plaintiff sustained a closed head injury, concussion, cervical strain, impaired vision, and injuries to her neck and jaw.
The plaintiff filed suit against both RMU and Universal Cheerleaders Association. With respect to the university, the main issue was whether it owed a duty to the plaintiff. The court weighed five factors: (1) the relationship between the parties; (2) the social utility of the actor’s conduct; (3) the nature of the risk imposed and foreseeability of the harm incurred; (4) the consequences of imposing a duty upon the actor; and (5) the overall public interest in the proposed solution.
In arguing that RMU owed her a duty, the plaintiff relied on a Third Circuit case in which the court found a college owed a duty to one of its athletes to have medical personnel present at sporting events. The plaintiff argued that she had a special relationship with RMU because of her participation in its cheerleading program. She pointed to the fact that her attendance was mandatory at the camp and that she was injured in a stunt group that was assembled pre-camp by the university’s cheerleading coach.
After review of the record, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania concluded that RMU did not owe a duty merely because its coach required the athletes to attend and accompanied them to the camp. Significantly, the coach did not undertake the task of instructing, supervising or training with respect to the stunt that resulted in the injury. To the contrary, the record showed that UCA was solely responsible for supervising and training for the new stunts. Accordingly, the Superior Court concluded that RMU did not owe a duty to the plaintiff under the circumstances.
Thank you to Erin Connolly for her contribution.
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