Former cheerleader sues Kamas school district
A former South Summit High School cheerleader who was left partially paralyzed after attempting to perform a stunt has sued the South Summit School District and her cheerleading coach to recover her medical costs and alleged lost earnings.
On June 30, 2004, the plaintiff, former South Summit High School student Michelle Horne, attended a cheerleading camp at the University of Utah as a member of the Kamas high school’s varsity cheerleading squad. The group was practicing a trick called a "basket toss" and Horne was the "flyer" who was thrown into the air, states a complaint filed Feb. 7 in Third District Court in Salt Lake City.
"After two failed stunts, a third was attempted," court documents state. "This, despite the fact that it was at the end of a long hot day, the cheerleaders were exhausted and they had failed the stunt two prior times."
The stunt requires a group of cheerleaders throw someone into the air who then does a toe-touch before falling back into the teammates’ arms. "They’ve thrown [the toss] a billion times and nothing’s ever gone wrong Something just went totally wrong in the stunt," fellow South Summit High cheerleader Dylan Larsen said at the time of the accident.
Horne reportedly landed on her neck and broke her back in the fall. She spent six weeks at University of Utah Health Sciences Center and was released in a wheelchair.
Horne’s attorneys claim during the third attempt to perform the stunt the cheerleaders threw her "too far back."
"They did not catch [Horne] or even break her fall and she fell to the ground," the complaint states.
The squad was only supposed to attempt the stunt twice, Horne claims in the lawsuit, adding that no "spotters" were assigned to catch her.
The civil lawsuit claims the School District, former South Summit High School cheerleading coach Olivia Gunderson and the camp organizer, Varsity Spirit Corporation, were negligent in causing Horne’s alleged injuries.
The South Summit School District had not been served this week with the lawsuit, Superintendent Tim Smith said Friday.
"It’ll be turned right over to risk management at the state," Smith said, adding that the Utah attorney general will likely review the case. "At this point, I’d just say no comment."
A district employee this week said Gunderson is no longer employed by South Summit School District.
Gunderson was allegedly supervising the cheerleaders as the district’s full-time cheerleading coach the day Horne was injured. She was not available Friday for comment.
"[Gunderson] while acting in the course and scope of her employment with [the district] owed [Horne] a duty to act in a reasonable and safe manner," the lawsuit states.
Horne’s attorneys allege that Gunderson failed to properly train her squad to perform the stunt. She failed to have "safety spotters" in place and negligently forced the cheerleaders to perform the trick at the end of a hot day, the lawsuit states.
According to the 11-page complaint, the cheerleaders who threw Horne and did not catch her are also responsible for her injuries.
The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $20,000 to cover Horne’s " permanent bodily impairment, permanent disfigurement and a reduction in the quality of her life."
During an interview with The Park Record during the summer of 2004, Horne said she had no intentions of suing because of the injury.
At the time, her mother, Diann Horne said insurance covered the bulk of Michelle’s medical costs, leaving the family with about $50,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
Horne and her attorney from Salt Lake City, Preston Handy, did not return telephone calls seeking comment on Friday.
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