The Circuit Court for Calvert County has granted a motion for summary judgment filed by Michael Sloneker and Cullen Casey on behalf of a Maryland Board of Education and three BOE employees. The BOE, a school principal, and two cheerleading coaches were sued by the family of a cheerleader who was injured when she fell while performing a “Liberty” stunt during cheerleading practice. The family asserted six separate claims against the defendants alleging various physical and emotional injuries. In short, the plaintiffs asserted that the coaches failed to properly supervise the practice and that the cheerleaders did not possess the appropriate skills to perform a “Liberty” stunt. After the close of discovery, Mr. Sloneker and Mr. Casey filed a motion for summary judgment on several grounds, including assumption of risk. In Maryland, assumption of risk serves as a total bar to a lawsuit when it can be established that the plaintiffs: (1) had knowledge of the risk of danger; (2) appreciated the risk; and (3) there was a voluntary exposure to the risk.
Judge E. Gregory Wells agreed with each of the arguments raised in the motion and granted summary judgment to all defendants on each of the six claims. In his written opinion, Judge Wells found that the “record is clear and unequivocal that [the cheerleader] and her parents had knowledge that cheerleading was dangerous” and thus the plaintiffs “clearly assumed the risk” that an injury could occur while performing cheerleading activities. Judge Wells also noted that the plaintiffs had signed liability releases to allow their daughter to participate in a number of other cheerleading events – which further demonstrated that they appreciated the risk and voluntarily exposed themselves to the risk that their daughter might be injured when she participated in cheerleading activities. In his opinion, Judge Wells relied heavily on the case of American Power Lifting Ass'n. v. Cotillo - which was also handled by Anderson, Coe & King - where the Maryland Court of Appeals held that a voluntary participant in an athletic event assumes all risks that are incidental to the sport, including the risk that someone else may be negligent. Just like the Court of Appeals decision in Cotillo , the Court in this case held that regardless of the allegations of negligence against the BOE and other defendants, the plaintiffs could not overcome the defense of assumption of risk.