Tippecanoe School Corp. wins summary judgment on injured cheerleader’s negligence claim

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The Tippecanoe School Corporation has secured summary judgment against a student’s negligence claim after the Court of Appeals ruled in its favor following a cheerleader’s injury.

The parents of Isabella Reynolds sued their daughter’s school corporation, coach and others following an incident that left the teen with a broken jaw and shattered teeth.

Roberta Patton, the William Henry Harrison High School varsity cheerleading coach, had asked Reynolds to fill in for the team’s “flyer” during a 2019 basketball game. Reynolds agreed and practiced with the varsity team before the game with no issues.

However, as Reynolds was hoisted into the air by her teammates during warmups, she was dropped onto the gymnasium’s bare hardwood floor. Reynolds broke her jaw and most of her teeth, requiring emergency surgery as well as extensive follow-up and rehabilitation.

Although she did not focus solely on Reynolds, Patton was present and observed the warmup when the incident occurred. She had opted not to use protective floor mats or extra spotters for the flyers.

Reynolds’ parents sued the school corporation, Harrison High School, Patton and Jerry Galema, the school’s athletics director, alleging negligent supervision. The parties stipulated to the dismissal without prejudice of Patton, Galema and Harrison High School as defendants, leaving TSC as the sole defendant.

TSC filed a motion for summary judgment on all four of Reynolds’ negligence claims. The Tippecanoe Superior Court granted judgment on three of the claims, but not on the claim of failure to provide proper supervision.

TSC then argued that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the negligent supervision claim and, in the alternative, that the doctrine of incurred risk barred Reynolds’ negligence claim.

The trial court again denied summary judgment on reconsideration, but the Court of Appeals reversed in Tippecanoe School Corporation v. Michelle Reynolds and Steven Reynolds, as Parents and Legal Guardians of Isabella Reynolds, a minor, 21A-CT-1482.

Appellate judges found TSC’s designated evidence demonstrated that the routine Patton had Reynolds and her teammates perform was ordinary, and that no evidence designated by Reynolds demonstrated otherwise.

It also found TSC satisfied the ordinary behavior element of the Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 39 (Ind. 2011), analysis and concluded negligent supervision is not a separate claim capable of eluding the Pfenning rule.

“Although we are sympathetic to Reynolds’ situation and the injuries she suffered, Reynolds’ argument is incompatible with (Megenity v. Dunn, 68 N.E.3d 1080 (Ind. 2017)),” Judge Margret Robb wrote. “As the routine Patton had the cheerleading squad perform was ordinary under a general analysis of the sport, we cannot now separate out a coach’s specific conduct related to supervision of the routine as a separate cause of action.

“… Because there is no separate cause of action for negligent supervision and there is no claim that Patton was intentional or reckless in her conduct, we hold that the trial court abused its discretion in denying TSC’s motion to reconsider as to Reynolds’ negligent supervision claim and TSC was entitled to judgment as a matter of law,” Robb concluded.

The COA remanded with instructions to enter summary judgment for TSC.

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