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Ex-cheerleader paralyzed by dangerous flip seeks damages from high school in Nagoya suit

The gymnasium at Okazaki Johsei High School, where the cheerleading accident occurred, is pictured in the Aichi Prefecture city of Okazaki on April 6, 2021. (Mainichi/Shinichiro Kawase)

NAGOYA -- A former member of a high school cheerleading club in Aichi Prefecture whose lower body was paralyzed in an accident during practice has filed a suit against the school's operator, demanding 183 million yen (about $1.68 million) in compensation.

    In the lawsuit filed with the Nagoya District Court, the former club member, aged 18, argues that the school let her engage in practice that was dangerous and beyond her learned skills.

    The accident occurred at Okazaki Johsei High School in the Aichi Prefecture city of Okazaki in July 2018, about three months after she had joined. According to the suit, dated Feb. 15 this year, the practice involved a difficult technique of having two senior club members hold her feet and lift her up to their shoulders, and then having her do a forward flip and land, even though she had not even mastered flips closer to the ground. The cheerleader landed on the mat on her neck, damaging her spinal cord and leaving her unable to move her lower body or go to the bathroom by herself.

    The club's male staff adviser was rarely present, and an external female coach had been providing instruction on technique, but both were absent at the time of the accident. There was no assistant on hand to prevent injuries, with the mat on the ground being the sole precaution.

    The former club member argued, "The adviser and coach neglected their duties to protect the student from the danger of the practice, allowing her to engage in practice beyond her skill level, which resulted in the accident."

    An accident investigation report that the school subsequently compiled with a lawyer and expert indicated that the adviser was under the impression that all instruction, including regarding safety, had been left in the hands of the external coach, but the coach didn't think that she was in charge of that. As a result, "daily practice was carried out without thorough safety instruction in the absence of the person responsible," the report concluded.

    After the accident, the Tokyo-based Foundation of Japan Cheerleading Association, which had instructed the school, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "It's a sport that involves dangers, so in training sessions for instructors and on other occasions, we ask that safety be considered the top priority. The practice undertaken in this case would normally be out of the question."

    Ryo Uchida, an associate professor at Nagoya University and an expert on school accidents, commented, "If it was difficult for the adviser and others to oversee the students, then they should have made it low-risk practice. It was an accident that occurred under extremely sloppy management."

    The former cheerleader's parents commented, "There was no proper explanation from the school, and we're doubtful about whether they understand the seriousness of the matter. It's very regrettable."

    A representative of the educational corporation operating the school commented, "We keenly feel the responsibility and we're reflecting on this. We'd like the court to make a fair judgement."

    The first round of oral proceedings in the lawsuit is due to open on April 21.

    (Japanese original by Shinichiro Kawase, Nagoya News Center)

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