COA rules for school corp. in injured student-athlete’s negligence suit

Summary judgment for a northern Indiana school corporation has been affirmed after a female basketball player suffered a head injury during practice.

In October 2017, LaVille High School freshman C.G. was at basketball practice when she was struck in the temple by a basketball, leaving her with a concussion. Her coach, Hannah Amor, had been attempting to aggressively block or “swat” the players’ balls when C.G. was struck.

Although C.G. didn’t think the hit was intentional, she filed a complaint against the Union North School Corporation alleging she suffered injuries as a result of Amor’s negligence. The school district responded with a motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the district argued it was entitled to summary judgment pursuant to Megenity v. Dunn, 68 N.E.3d 1080 (Ind. 2017), and Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011),  because “blocking a basketball shot is well within the ordinary conduct expected in basketball.”

The St. Joseph Superior Court entered summary judgment for the school corporation, finding that Amor “did not breach any duty to [C.G.] by blocking the shot” and that C.G. could not satisfy the factors necessary to demonstrate reckless conduct. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed in a Tuesday opinion.

“Swatting or blocking the basketball during a layup is ordinary in the sport of basketball. C.G. seemingly concedes this point,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the appellate panel. “… Accordingly, pursuant to Megenity and Pfenning, if Coach Amor was a sports participant, there was no breach of duty as a matter of law unless the coach’s actions were intentional or reckless.”

The panel further found that Amor was acting as a defensive player and participating in drills during practice. Thus, it concluded that the policy concerns cited by C.G. are inapplicable and that Amor was a sports participant, meaning the standard set forth in Megenity and Pfenning applies.

“Because Coach Amor was a sports participant engaging in conduct that was ordinary in the sport, there was no breach of duty as a matter of law unless Coach Amor’s actions were intentional or reckless. C.G. acknowledged in her deposition that she does not believe Coach Amor struck her with the basketball intentionally, and no evidence was presented to indicate intentional conduct,” Tavitas wrote. “On appeal, C.G. makes no argument that Coach Amor struck her recklessly. Accordingly, C.G. has failed, as a matter of law, to demonstrate a breach of duty, and the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the School Corporation.”

The case is In the Matter of C.G. (Minor Child) and David Gutelius (Father) and Lori Gutelius (Mother) v. Union North United School Corporation, 20A-CT-526.

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