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Biancorosso v. Troy Community Consolidated School District No. 30C

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Third District

August 29, 2019

SAMANTHA BIANCOROSSO, a Minor, b her Mother, TINA BIANCOROSSO, Plaintiff-Appellant,

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 12th Judicial Circuit, Will County, Illinois Appeal No. 3-18-0613 Circuit No. 16-L-456 Honorable Raymond E. Rossi Judge, Presiding

          Thomas P. Polacek, of McNamara Phelan McSteen, LLC, of Joliet, for appellant.

          Monica E. Banet, of Law Offices of Lawrence Cozzi, of Warrenville, for appellee.

          JUSTICE O'BRIEN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Carter and McDade concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 Plaintiff Samantha Biancorosso, a sixth-grade student at defendant Troy Community Consolidated School District No. 30C (District), was injured at cheerleading practice and brought a complaint alleging that the District's willful and wanton conduct caused her injuries. The District moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. Biancorosso appealed. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 Plaintiff Samantha Biancorosso, a minor, by her mother, Tina Biancorosso, filed a complaint against defendant District, alleging the Troy Community Consolidated School District No. 30C acted negligently during cheerleading practice, resulting in injuries to Samantha, and asserting claims for Samantha's medical expenses. The complaint set forth the following as negligent conduct: failure to take adequate safety precautions; failure to provide sufficient supervision and spotters; failure to supervise and observe routines and maneuvers; and failure to supervise, train, or monitor cheerleading coaches regarding proper safety precautions and equipment. The complaint asserted that Samantha was "tossed" in the air while practicing on "thin gymnastics mats" on a tile floor, with inadequate spotters and without observation by a supervising adult. Samantha filed an amended complaint, replacing the negligence allegations with willful and wanton claims. The willful and wanton claims mirrored the negligence claims but substituted willful and wanton conduct for negligence. The District moved to dismiss, which was heard and denied, and answered the complaint, asserting affirmative defenses.

         ¶ 4 The District moved for summary judgment and attached to its motion various depositions. Tina, Samantha's mother, testified that her daughter's cheerleading injury resulted in surgery, a hospital stay, a cast on Samantha's arm, and three scars. Samantha continued to experience some pain on occasion. Samantha first became involved in cheerleading in the sixth grade. Tina had no concerns about Samantha performing stunts such as the pyramid, which she had performed at several basketball games before the injury. She had no concerns about the mats used at practice. She did not voice any concerns to Samantha's coach. Tina had read and signed the District's "Extra-Curricular Athletic/Activity and Concussion Information Permission Form." The form acknowledged that there were "special dangers and risks" associated with extracurricular activities, including falls and broken bones.

         ¶ 5 Samantha testified at her deposition that she was currently in the eighth grade and had stopped cheerleading after sixth grade as she was more interested in dance. She returned to cheerleading after her injuries healed and was involved in poms in the seventh and eighth grades. She had pursued cheerleading more for poms because it included dance routines and because cheerleading and poms were together at the sixth-grade level. She had been involved in tumbling since she was five years old. She had performed other cheerleading stunts before but was attempting the one in which she was injured for the first time. The stunt involved girls acting as a base and she performing as the flyer. She asked to be the flyer. She tried the stunt several times with the coach present. Although she was wobbly when first attempting it, she was not unprepared. She could have asked for additional spotters if she felt uncomfortable. Samantha did not tell anyone she was scared; rather, she felt ready for the stunt. However, while attempting it, she tilted and fell, putting her arm out to break the fall. She landed on the mat. Cheer mats covered the entire floor.

         ¶ 6 Jaclyn Doumanian was deposed and testified that she was the sixth-grade cheer coach from August 2015 to January 2016. She had no previous experience coaching or any certification to do so. She shadowed the junior varsity and varsity coaches and practiced with them. She also took an online safety training course. She held a meeting where the parents were informed about safety and required to complete a permission form. When practice was held in the school cafeteria, they used cheer mats to cover the tile floor. The three coaches, including herself, were responsible for placing the mats before practice with the cheerleaders' help. The mats covered the entire floor and were inspected before practice for rips, tears, or problems and to ensure the mats were properly connected to each other. There were no complaints about the mats. The sixth graders did not perform throwing stunts. The stunt during which Samantha was hurt included two spotters, two bases and a flyer. Doumanian would teach the stunts and make sure the girls were comfortable performing them without her help but in her presence. Samantha was not a regular flyer but Doumanian coached her about the particular stunt. Initially, Samantha had trouble standing up in the stunt, which was normal. Samantha tried the stunt a couple of times and performed it correctly two or three times. Doumanian was working with Samantha and her group for approximately 15 minutes. If she believed Samantha was uncomfortable or unable to perform the stunt, she would have stayed and kept working with her. Doumanian made sure Samantha was comfortable performing it before she moved to work with a different group of girls. The group was located about 20 feet from Samantha's group.

         ¶ 7 Julie Brandolino testified at her deposition as follows. She was the head cheer coach for 10 years, leaving the position in 2016. She conducted safety meetings with the other coaches. They used cheer mats rather than tumbling mats because they were safer. The mats were inspected before each use and were compliant with the standards of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) and the Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA). The District bought the mats used from Wilmington High School.

         ¶ 8 Megan DeGroot was deposed and testified that she was the District's athletic director and activities director for grades kindergarten through eighth. She oversaw the coaches and activities. The cheer mats were certified by the IHSA and IESA and were in warranty. The standard practice was for the mats to be rolled out and inspected before practice, and if there was a mat problem, practice would be cancelled. She inspected the mats weekly and had done so in the days preceding Samantha's accident and in the days after and found no problems.

         ¶ 9 The trial court granted the District's summary judgment motion but stayed it to allow Samantha time to amend her complaint. When Samantha did not file a second amended complaint, the court again entered a ...

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