Did you know cheerleading accidents account for 65% of all catastrophic injuries to high school female athletes?
Cheerleading is only recognized as a sport in 29 states yet 37,000 high school girls go to an emergency room every year due to injuries they received from cheerleading. While people can argue whether cheerleading is a sport, there is no doubt that girls get injured while cheerleading and they suffer disproportionately when compared to other athletes to catastrophic injuries.
In Washington state, the determination whether cheerleading is a sport is on a school-by-school basis and it is based on whether the individual school treats cheerleading as a sport and the girls who participate in it as student athletes. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) is in the process of allowing its member schools to offer cheerleading as a sport. If cheerleading is recognized as a sport, then the participants will have to abide by other rules such as not being allowed to participate in another sport concurrently with cheer.
Across the nation, approximately 500,000 high school girls participate in cheerleading. With cheerleading requiring more athleticism, more stunts and becoming increasingly competitive, more girls are at a risk for catastrophic injuries including traumatic brain injuries, skull fractures and injuries to the cervical spine. We also read one case in which a girl suffered a broken pelvis after a fall injury.
Studies show that concussions among cheerleaders has risen by 26% between the years 1998 and 2008 as cheerleading as competition between squads has become more fierce requiring more tumbling, mumping and stunts. Often the girls are practicing year-round and with daily practice sometimes last several hours a day. Some teams even have separate tumbling practice outside of the regular rehearsals.
When should the legal system be involved in a cheerleading accident?
There seems to be no doubt with the increase in concussions that cheerleading is more dangerous now than 20 years ago. If coaches are not properly trained and certified, girls may be at risk for injury.
Case laws finds that a cheerleader cannot sue other cheerleaders for injuries sustained during a routine if one fails to perform correctly. However, a cheerleader may file a civil suit claiming negligence if:
- Training or coaching was inadequate or improper
- Equipment failed or there was a fault assembly of equipment or improper training with equipment.
- Adequate medical care was not sought after an accident or if a cheerleader returned to the squad after a concussion without being cleared by a physician.
While lawsuits regarding cheerleading accidents are fairly rare, an injury attorney with experience in youth sports injuries and injury law should be able to evaluate the merits of a case. Many courts have ruled that injuries are part of the “inherent risk” associated with cheerleading or any athletic activity but that is not to say that a case involving negligence will not be successful.
It seems to me that schools and athletic teams must look towards their own liability when they step-up the competitiveness of their programs and do not follow standards of care in training coaches, providing adequate facilities and train the participants.
About Herbert G. Farber
Herbert Farber is a an attorney located in Bellevue, Washington and has specialized in injury and liability law for more than 40 years.