Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
The standard set forth in sports, as it applies to co-participants, generally should apply to sports instructors, keeping in mind, of course, that different facts are of significance in each setting. In order to support a cause of action in cases in which it is alleged that a sports instructor has required a student to perform beyond the student's capacity or without providing adequate instruction, it must be alleged and proved that the instructor acted with intent to cause a student's injury or that the instructor acted recklessly in the sense that the instructor's conduct was totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in teaching or coaching the sport.
A 14-year-old novice swimmer on defendant school district's junior varsity swim team filed suit against the school district and her swimming coach after she broke her neck executing a practice dive from a starting block into a three-and-one-half-foot-deep racing pool. The suit alleged that the injury was caused in part by the failure of the coach, a district employee, to provide the swimmer with any instruction in how to safely dive into a shallow racing pool and further that the coach breached the duty of care owed to the swimmer by insisting that she dive at the competitive swim meet despite her objections, her lack of expertise, her fear of diving, and the coach's previous promise to exempt her from diving. The trial court granted summary judgment in defendants' favor, finding that, under the doctrine of primary assumption of risk, they could not be liable unless they had elevated the risks inherent in competitive swimming or had behaved recklessly. The Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of summary judgment on the theory that the doctrine of primary assumption of risk barred the swimmer's claim.
Was the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants proper under the circumstances?
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remanded for further proceedings. The Supreme Court concluded that the totality of the circumstances precluded the grant of defendants' motion for summary judgment. It held that in order to support a cause of action against the coach for requiring the novice swimmer to perform beyond her capacity as a competitive swimmer and without adequate instruction, it had to be alleged and proved that the coach acted with intent to cause an injury or that the coach acted recklessly, in the sense that his conduct was totally outside the range of the ordinary activity involved in coaching a swim team. The question whether the coach's conduct was reckless could not properly be resolved on summary judgment. Specifically, evidence had been presented of the coach's failure to provide the swimmer with training in shallow-water diving, his awareness of the swimmer's intense fear of diving into shallow water, his conduct in lulling the swimmer into a false sense of security by promising that she would not be required to dive at competitions, his last-minute breach of this promise in the heat of a competition, and his threat to remove her from competition or at least from the meet if she refused to dive. Moreover, the swimmer presented evidence that the coach failed to follow the well-established progression of instruction for teaching a student to perform a dive into a shallow racing pool, a maneuver, which if not done correctly, posed a significant risk of extremely serious injury. Indeed, declarations before the trial court raised a disputed issue of fact as to whether defendant coach provided any diving instruction at all to the swimmer. The circumstances presented a factual issue as to whether the coach's acts and omissions were causally related to the swimmer's injury, precluding a grant of summary judgment for defendants.