Dempsey, et al. v. Board of Education, et al.
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has affirmed an opinion and order from the Calvert County Circuit Court granting summary judgment for 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 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, Michael Sloneker and Cullen 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. The trial court agreed with each of the arguments raised in the motion and granted the defendants summary judgment on each of the six claims.
Following the dismissal of their case, the Plaintiffs filed an appeal with the Court of Special Appeals. Following oral argument earlier this year, the Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment on all claims. The Court noted in its opinion that the trial court correctly determined that the sworn testimony along with the record evidence offered conclusive proof that the Plaintiffs had actual, subjective knowledge, and an appreciation of the risks associated with cheerleading activities. Like the trial court, the Court of Special Appeals determined that the Plaintiffs failed to set forth any evidence that remotely demonstrated that the coaches engaged in reckless or intentional conduct that exposed the Plaintiffs to an enhanced risk of injury. In its opinion, the Court of Special Appeals 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 of Special Appeals 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 and affirmed the trial court's entry of judgment.