Board Loses Appeal Involving Immunity and Cheerleading Injury

Sep 28, 2007

A North Carolina Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial court’s ruling that a school district, which was sued after a cheerleader fell during the performance of a stunt, did not waive its governmental immunity up to limits contained in an insurance coverage agreement. The panel also affirmed the court’s finding that the district did waive its immunity with respect to plaintiffs’ claims in excess of $150,000, but less than $1 million.
Haley Amanda Lail was a high school student and a member of the King’s Mountain High School varsity cheerleading squad. Lail alleged that when she arrived at cheerleading practice on November 11, 2003, the squad’s coach was not present. Instead, the coach had appointed a Gardner-Webb University student to direct cheerleading practice.
The college student directed the cheerleaders, including Lail, to perform a “He Man” cheerleading stunt. Lail was elevated by the other cheerleaders and placed her feet in the hands of a “main base cheerleader.” As the “main base cheerleader” held Lail’s feet at shoulder level, Lail lost her balance and fell backwards. She struck her head on the floor and was knocked unconscious, fracturing her skull.
The plaintiff filed her complaint on January 16, 2006, seeking to recover monetary damages based on the board and coach’s negligence. A couple months later, the board moved to dismiss and for summary judgment, alleging governmental immunity.
After the Cleveland County Superior Court denied, in part, the board’s motion, it appealed. Specifically, it argued that the trial court erred in denying, in part, its motion and asserts it has not waived its governmental immunity with respect to plaintiffs’ claims above the limits of the coverage agreement.
The appeals court affirmed that part of the ruling denying the board’s motion, finding that “the provisions of the Coverage Agreement and the Excess Policy are in conflict and ambiguous concerning whether all exclusions … of the Coverage Agreement apply to the Excess Policy.” Further, “the Excess Policy did not expressly exclude injuries sustained in connection with cheerleading activities.”
Judges WYNN and CALABRIA concur.
Haley Amanda Lail v. Cleveland County Board of Education et al.; Ct. App. N.C.; 645 S.E.2d 180; 2007 N.C. App. LEXIS 1153; 6/5/07
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Mark L. Simpson. (for defendants) Tharrington Smith, L.L.P., by Kenneth A. Soo and Neal A. Ramee


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