When cheerleading goes bad

Sports coaches don’t always have the world’s happiest job.  Every coach from the New England Patriots down to the Bullamakanka Netball Club gets castigated by supporters when the team fails to win.  And when things go really bad off the sporting field, every decision that lead there may be scrutinised as well.

group of cheerleader on green field
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

On 27 December 2014 Kristen Galuardi, a pupil of Trumbull High School in Connecticutt, was engaged in a practice at the Fairfield Gymnastics and Cheerleading Academy.  It was alleged that the team’s director made two critical decisions in setting up the training.  First, one of the team was permitted to train in socks without shoes.  Second, the team were practising without spotters.  When Galuardi was thrown into the air, her team-mates attempted to catch her.  The team-mate wearing socks slipped and Galuardi hit the floor, suffering injuries.  She lost consciousness, but (it was alleged) the manager declined to seek medical assistance for her.

Galuardi sued for her injuries.  The case settled at the door of the Court for an undisclosed sum.  It is always difficult to draw lessons from a case that resolves by agreement rather than judgment; nevertheless, a few points can be made –

  • The fact that an activity is sporting rather than (say) work-related does not reduce the standard of care on administrators: Wilson v O’Gorman High School (2008).
  • Coaches should not increase the risks inherent in sports participation, at least outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in teaching or coaching the sport: Honeycutt v Meridian Sports Club LLC (2014).

Note: this report is largely based on the report in the Trumbull Times.

Galuardi v Town of Trumbull and Gymnastics & Cheerleading Academy (Superior Court of Connecticutt, 2019)

Harsted v Prior Lake-Savage School District (2013) H&FLR 2014-51

Beverly Harsted (as Mother and Natural Guardian of Tiffany Harsted) v Prior Lake-Savage Independent School District 719 (2013) H&FLR 2014-51

Scott County District Court (Minnesota)

20 June 2013

Coram: Fahey J

Appearing for the Plaintiff: Martin Montilino
Appearing for the Defendants: Not represented

Catchwords: Minnesota – school sport – gymnastics – action by coach – back injury – damages – quantum

Facts: The 14 year old plaintiff (Tiffany Harsted) was a student at Prior Lake High School and part of its gymnastics team. During a gymnastics practice on 26 January 2011 she was lying on her stomach on the floor of a training venue with an icepack on her back. An assistant coach stepped on her back for reasons which were unclear. She experienced persistent pain after this incident which was eventually identified as a vertebral facet fracture (in addition to stress fractures which were attributed to repetitive trauma associated with gymnastics). The stress fractures recovered but the facet fracture did not fully heal. The evidence was that the plaintiff would continue to have back pain with activity. She was ultimately able to resume gymnastics.

The plaintiff sought compensation for her injury from the school. Damages were agreed with the operator of the school at $24,000.00 (inclusive of legal costs of $8,000.00). Application was made to the court for approval of an infant’s compromise.

Held: The Court’s records indicate that the compromise was approved, offering an insight into the damages considered appropriate for a blameless plaintiff with an injury of the type described.

Judgment

No written reasons are available. This report has been prepared based on the Court’s Register of Actions and the report prepared by Kaitlyn Egan in the Prior Lake American of 16 June 2013.