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Chilton v. Cook County School Dist. No. 207

JANUARY 14, 1975.

SUZANNE CHILTON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

COOK COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 207, MAINE TOWNSHIP, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. THOMAS H. FITZGERALD, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE DOWNING DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied March 6, 1975.

This action was brought by Suzanne Chilton (hereinafter plaintiff) to recover damages for injuries allegedly caused by the negligence of the defendant school district (hereinafter defendant) and an instructor employed by defendant, Linda Walton, in maintaining and supervising a trampoline class as part of a physical education program. The jury returned a verdict for plaintiff solely against defendant. This appeal emanates from the entry of judgment upon that verdict. On appeal, defendant challenges, inter alia, the sufficiency of plaintiff's second amended complaint, filed at the close of all the evidence in the court below, in that the complaint failed to allege that defendant and Linda Walton were guilty of wilful and wanton misconduct in the supervision of the trampoline class.

Defendant presents a number of issues for review:

(1) whether defendant was responsible for injuries sustained by plaintiff in the course of a physical education class as a result of defendant's alleged negligence, as opposed to wilful and wanton misconduct;

(2) whether the court below improperly excluded certain evidence offered by defendant and improperly admitted certain evidence offered by plaintiff; and

(3) whether the court below erred in failing to enter a judgment notwithstanding the verdict in defendant's behalf when the jury had entered a verdict in favor of Linda Walton and a verdict against the defendant.

On April 25, 1968, plaintiff, a 15-year-old freshman, was injured while performing a trampoline maneuver or "stunt" known as a "front-drop" during a physical education course at Maine Township High School East, one of the schools within the defendant school district. The extent of plaintiff's injuries is not in dispute; suffice it to say they were severe.

At the time of the injury, the high school had required that all freshman students take trampoline as part of its physical education program. Plaintiff had experienced some difficulty in performing the "front-drop" maneuver, but had been encouraged by Linda Walton, her instructor, not to be fearful. Walton gave plaintiff personal instruction in the maneuver. Near the end of class on April 25, 1968, plaintiff, in attempting the execution of a front-drop, descended to the mat incorrectly and suffered injury.

Three or four trampolines had been in use in the class that day, and between 20 and 25 students were participating; Walton was the only instructor. Each trampoline was surrounded by student "spotters," who were to push the students toward the center of the mat if they bounced too close to the periphery of the trampoline. Walton was in charge of supervising and instructing the students using trampolines and would view each of the trampolines in operation alternately. At the moment plaintiff was injured, Walton was approximately 10 feet from plaintiff, watching another student's performance on another trampoline, and, upon being informed of the accident, immediately went to plaintiff's aid.

Evidence as to approximately 70 trampoline injuries occurring between 1963 and 1968 at Maine East High School was submitted by plaintiff in the trial court. The injuries included a wide range of mishaps, from sprained thumbs and bloody noses to muscle sprains and fractures.

The school's safety precautions regarding the trampoline course can be summarized as follows. Certified instructors were to be present at all times, and student spotters were to be stationed around each trampoline in use. Trampoline safety principles were to be taught and demonstrated to all students by an instructor before any student would undertake exercise on the trampoline mat. Students were not to be forced to perform any particular stunt, and the trampoline course was required of all freshman students without regard to any demonstrated ability or experience on the trampoline.

Count I of plaintiff's second amended complaint, with respect to defendant, alleged, inter alia, that defendant committed one or more of the following acts or omissions in a careless and negligent manner: (a) failed to provide adequate supervision of the required trampoline course for beginners; (b) failed to require increasingly close supervision as trampoline injuries increased; (c) failed to require the use of safety harnesses; (d) failed to establish small trampoline classes; (e) failed to provide more teachers per class; (f) failed to require the presence of student leaders; (g) failed to require fewer than four trampolines per class; (h) failed to separate those beginners who were having difficulty in order to watch them more closely; and (i) failed to test beginners on the trampoline to determine who was capable of taking the course and who was not.

Count II of plaintiff's second amended complaint, with respect to Linda Walton, alleged, inter alia, that she committed one or more of the following acts or omissions in a careless and negligent manner: (a) continued to encourage plaintiff to perform a certain stunt after it became known that plaintiff lacked confidence and had considerable difficulty in performing the stunt; (b) continued to encourage plaintiff to perform a certain stunt after it because known that other beginners in her class had ...


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