Injured Cheerleader was Covered under NCAA Policy for Injuries During Phy Ed Class

Federal case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Insurance, coverage.

Wesley Patterson v. Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company. Insurance, coverage

Wesley Patterson was a member of the cheerleading team at Prairie View A&M University. The school, as a member of the NCAA, had an insurance policy with Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company which covered student cheerleaders who are injured during cheerleading practice sessions.

Patterson joined the cheerleading team in 2007. He was required to attend practice sessions four days a week after school. In addition, the coach taught a one-credit physical education class two days a week. Patterson attended this class starting in 2007, even though he was not officially enrolled in it. Other cheerleaders also attended this class without being enrolled, although attendance was not required. The next semester, Patterson did enroll in the class and continued attending.

On January 23, 2008, during the class, Patterson was injured while attempting a round-off back-handspring back tuck. This was part of a graded skills exam for the class. As a result of his injuries, he was rendered a partial quadraplegic. He sought coverage under the Mutual of Omaha insurance policy, which was denied. He then sued in federal district court in Nebraska.

The insurance company defended on the grounds that the class was not a "practice session" for purposes of the policy. Under the policy, practice sessions must be authorized, organized by, and directly supervised by the official coach, and must be in preparation for a qualifying intercollegiate sport team competition. Both sides moved for summary judgment, and the district court concluded that there was coverage, because the class was a practice session for purposes of the policy. The insurance company appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals agreed that the class was a practice session. There were eight students in the gym at the time of the accident. Two of them were students who were not cheerleaders, and two were cheerleaders who were not enrolled in the class. Four of them were both cheerleaders and enrolled in the class. The court noted that this kind of overlap between academics and athletics was not uncommon, and that the class could still be a practice session despite the presence of non-cheerleaders.

Also, even though the coach was not responsible for scheduling the class and giving the credits, the court held that the class was still under his supervision, as required by the policy.

Finally, the court had to decide whether the practice session was in preparation for a qualifying intercollegiate event, as required by the policy. It held that it was. Even though he was performing the tumble as part of his grade, the court found that it was also in preparation for the cheerleading team. The court also held that this was directly associated with an intercollegiate event, as required by the policy.

For these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision.

No. 12-3838 (8th Cir. Feb. 28, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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