Ask The Experts
YOUTH SPORTS AND THE LAW: Running safe cheerleading competitions
Q: Our recreation department is hosting a cheerleading competition that will involve young cheerleaders ages 12-16 from surrounding cities. Our department has strict guidelines limiting the type of stunts our cheerleading team can perform because it’s a new sport for us and the girls are inexperienced, but I know many of the other teams that will be competing in our event have been competing for several years so they are understandably more lenient when it comes to allowing the girls to perform routines that involve flipping and spinning in the air.
I know those types of maneuvers are what the girls love performing and we can’t run an event that says those moves aren’t allowed, but I am worried about injuries and the liability that comes with them if they were to happen during our event. How can I make sure we run a safe and fun event without exposing our department to a lawsuit?
A: First, make sure every team entered in the competition is fully insured and names your recreation department as an additional insured on their respective liability insurance policies. This is done by an “additional insured” endorsement that is a simple one- or two-page form. Every insurance company has such a form and allows this. It is routine. The additional insured endorsement should name the recreation department and the personnel (not necessarily by name) acting on behalf of the department during the competition.
Second, every participating team and individual should sign a Release up front as part of registration. The Release would release the recreation department and its personnel for any liability for personal injuries any visiting cheerleader sustains while visiting the facility or engaged in the competition. Obviously, this would be true for participants who insist on dangerous maneuvers.
Third, consider limiting the competition only to those teams that agree to certain safety restrictions in advance and in writing. Make a decision now regarding what will and will not be acceptable maneuvers. The purpose is to eliminate from the competition some maneuvers that are not age-appropriate, are exceptionally difficult, and place at significant risk the (relatively young) girls and boys. Circulate your list of approved (or unapproved) maneuvers to the team coaches in writing (preferably by email and/or with any registration forms) in advance of the competition.
Remember, the overall idea is not merely to protect the recreation department and its personnel from liability; it is to protect the cheerleaders from injuring themselves in ways they may not foresee solely because they are so young. Putting that in writing never hurts and always helps.
If entrants resist the requirements in the paragraphs above, they cannot participate. It’s that simple. If you receive opposition, tell them the competition is meant to be fun, exciting and safe. But it’s not meant to expose your recreation department and personnel to liability for athletic injuries merely because the participants are using your facilities.
The more cheerleading becomes like circus gymnastics, the more these precautions are required. Otherwise, you could expose cheerleaders to serious injury and the recreation department to a lawsuit that could be costly and substantial. No one wants that.
David Langfitt is a partner in the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia, Pa., where he specializes in complex commercial, mass tort and fiduciary litigation. He has also litigated multiple patent and copyright infringement claims in federal district and appellate courts. He can be reached at (215) 893-3423 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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