Wisconsin Court: Cheerleading Is a Contact Sport; Participants Can’t Be Sued for Accidents

Yesterday the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously ruled in a lawsuit brought by Brittany Noffke, a varsity basketball cheerleader at Holmen High School in western Wisconsin. While practicing a stunt for the first time before a basketball game in 2004, she fell backwards off the shoulders of another cheerleader and suffered a head injury.  She then filed a lawsuit against the 16-year-old male cheerleader who was supposed to be her spotter but failed to catch her, as well as the school district and its insurer.  Noffke claimed that the coach was negligent for failing to supervise the stunt and not making sure that mats were being used.  (The court ruling can be found here.)

Justice Annette Ziegler rejected Noffke’s argument that contact sports were limited to aggressive sports.  In her opinion, she wrote that lawmakers meant to limit liability for “any recreational activity that includes physical contact between persons in a sport involving amateur teams.”  Zeigler said that cheerleading involves “a significant amount of physical contact between the cheerleaders that at times results in a forceful interaction between the participants.”

This decision means that cheerleaders can only be sued for acting recklessly in causing injuries, and that Noffke’s teammate’s actions were only a mistake.

Ziegler also said that the district cannot be sued for the coach’s behavior under Wisconsin law that shields government agencies from lawsuits for the actions of employees.  The coach had no duty to make sure a spotter was in place or to provide mats and the stunt was not a “known and compelling danger,” the court said.

I have to say, when I saw the headline on the bottom of the TV: “Court rules cheerleading is contact sport,” I thought, “Come on, what’s this about!”  But as I read over the case and thought about it, the  court is right.  Nowhere in the law does it state that the contact has to be between members of different teams.  It’s a law meant to protect students from accidents (not negligence), and that’s what happened here.

If you fail to catch somebody, that’s not on purpose (normally).  It is possible to let somebody fall when you’re there to catch them, and that should be protected under the law.  Cheerleading isn’t a simple and easy sport, so I think the dangers do need to be carefully looked at, and if you take the risk of participating, you have to live with the fact that you might get injured.

Done Ranting,

Ranting Republican
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7 Responses to “Wisconsin Court: Cheerleading Is a Contact Sport; Participants Can’t Be Sued for Accidents”

  1. Dale Says:

    Yeah, it looks like a good decision. My daughter was a cheerleader, it’s a risky passtime. One cheerleader got dropped from a basket toss, they were junior cheerleaders and when they tossed her up, nobody remembered to catch. Man that made me mad, but that’s one of the risks of cheerleading. The girl’s elbow was dislocated and she was out for a year.

    By contrast, my daughter was always willing to give up her own body for the flyer. Most bases are like that. If you dive to cushion someone’s fall, there’s almost no way you’re going to get hurt worse than the person falling. And the bases have to be willing to protect the flyer at all costs, or else the flyer will have no confidence in her stunts.

    Anyway, nobody even thought about suing anybody when the girl was dropped.

  2. Sharon McEachern Says:

    The law should be changed to remove the exemption of “contact sports.” But aside from the legal terminology and what that means — cheerleading IS a contact sport.

    For girls in both high school and college, two-thirds of all severe sports injuries (from 1982 to 2007) were related to cheerleading, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. You can read the center’s guidelines to help prevent cheerleading injuries at:

    http://www.ethicsoup.com/guidelines-to-help-prevent-cheerleading-injuries.html

    What has to happen for guidelines such as these to become law to protect these girls?

  3. inkslwc Says:

    Sharon, when you say that the exemption for contact sports should be removed, are you saying that lawsuits should be allowed for accidents in all sports or are you saying that no lawsuits should be allowed for accidents in any sports?

  4. AlexSorent Says:

    Well, these are interesting thoughts. I think they are true. However, everything is
    relative and ambiguous to my mind.

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