The St. Paul schools have immunity from a lawsuit filed by a woman who was injured while performing a difficult gymnastic maneuver in a summer community education program when she was 14, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
A three-judge Appeals Court panel reversed a ruling last year by Ramsey County District Judge Joanne Smith that denied summary judgment to the school district.
According to the ruling, Morgan Goetz began participating in gymnastics programs when she was 5 or 6 years old. She attempted the difficult Tsukahara vault for the first time in the fall of 2001 and performed it "somewhat regularly" in practices and in competitions.
In the summer of 2002, when she was 14, Goetz was participating in a community education gymnastic program sponsored by the school district. On July 24, she tried the Tsukahara vault for the third time that summer. On her first try, she landed on her knees rather than her feet. When a coach asked if she needed help, she said yes. But on her second try, no one helped and she landed on her head, injuring her neck and spine.
In her lawsuit, Goetz claimed the coaches acted "negligently, carelessly and recklessly."
The school district argued that it was entitled to recreational-use immunity under Minnesota law. The statute states that a public entity is immune from liability if an injury arises from a recreational activity or piece of equipment unless there is a defect that is hidden from the user.
Goetz, now 20, still suffers from chronic neck and shoulder pain, frequent headaches and limited range of cervical motion, said her attorney, James Ballentine. She is a student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, he said.
Ballentine said he and Goetz will talk about appealing the ruling to the state Supreme Court. He believes the Appeals Court read the statute too narrowly and that there is an exception to the law.
"I would love to appeal this, but that decision is not mine," Ballentine said.
Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551