High school cheerleading is a contact sport and therefore its participants cannot be sued for accidentally causing injuries, according to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The court ruled that a former high school cheerleader cannot sue a teammate who failed to stop her fall while she was practicing a stunt. The court also said the injured cheerleader cannot sue her school district.
The National Cheer Safety Foundation said the decision is the first of its kind in the nation.
At issue in the case was whether cheerleaders qualify for immunity under a Wisconsin law that prevents participants in contact sports from suing each other for unintentional injuries.
The Supreme Court said cheerleading involves “a significant amount of physical contact between the cheerleaders.”
The lawsuit was brought by Brittany Noffke, who was a varsity cheerleader at Holmen High School in western Wisconsin. While practicing a stunt in 2004, Noffke fell backward off the shoulders of another cheerleader and suffered a serious head injury.
She sued a 16-year-old male teammate who was supposed to be her spotter but failed to catch her; the school district; and the district’s insurer.
The decision means cheerleaders can be sued only for acting recklessly. The court said Noffke’s teammate only made a mistake or showed a lack of skill. As for the school district, Ziegler said it cannot be sued for the coach’s behavior under a Wisconsin law that shields government agencies from lawsuits for the actions of employees.
Because of the increasingly difficult stunts, injuries among high school cheerleaders are a problem. Researchers at the University of North Carolina have found that two-thirds of the roughly 100 cases of “catastrophic” sports injuries among high school girls since 1982 have involved cheerleading.
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