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Florida Court Reduces Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuit in UCF Football Player’s Death

Florida Court Reduces Damages in Wrongful Death Lawsuit in UCF

This past August, a ruling by a Florida court of appeals effectively reduced a $10 million damage award to $200,000 in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a University of Central Florida football player who died during team practice drills in the 2008 season.

UCF student-athlete Ereck Plancher collapsed and died following intensive conditioning drills at the school’s football complex in March 2008.  In response, Ereck’s family filed a wrongful death suit against UCF in March 2009. The lawsuit alleged that the coaches and other school officials failed to do everything possible to save Plancher’s life. The case later went to trial in June 2011.

2011 Civil Trial

During the civil trial, Plancher’s attorneys presented evidence from four former UCF football players, including a former team captain, who all recalled a strenuous workout. The players also testified that Plancher was struggling throughout the drills, often gasping and trying to catch his breath.

They also alleged that no water or trainers were present during what one of the players said was a “punishment” training session for players returning from spring vacation out of shape. They also alleged coach George O’Leary cursed Plancher moments before he collapsed. Plancher had to be carried away by fellow teammates.

The Orange County medical examiner and three experts also testified during the trial that Ereck died from complications of sickle cell trait. The jury found UCFAA was negligent and awarded Plancher’s parents a total of $10 million.

Award Reduced by 2012 Appeal

UCF and its insurance company, Great American Assurance Company, appealed the verdict in May 2012. UCF officials also argued the school did everything necessary to save Plancher’s life. During their case, they had players who were at the workout testify that water was available to players and argued that Plancher knew he had sickle cell trait and that it was actually a heart condition that caused his death.

The Florida appeals court passed down a ruling in August reducing the initial $10 million damage award to $200,000. The court, however, denied the University of Central Florida Athletic Association a new trial, which it also was seeking. The court cited UCF’s power of control over its athletics association is sufficient for sovereign immunity afforded to state agencies in civil judgments, reducing the original award Ereck’s parents received in July 2011. Any award above $200,000 must now be approved by the legislature.

UCF spokesman Grant J. Heston issued a statement:

“Ereck remains in our thoughts, and we honor his memory as part of our football program. The ruling about sovereign immunity confirms our long-held position about this important issue, and we are pleased with the decision.”

The court also ruled, in part, that UCFAA:

“is wholly controlled by and intertwined with UCF, in that UCF created it, funded it and can dissolve it, in addition to oversee its day-to-day operations.”

Also, because of the ruling the court reversed the awarding of attorney’s fees and costs of more than $2 million. The ruling means that UCFAA will not have to pay these costs.

A statement issued by the Plancher family’s attorney read:

“For the Plancher family and the sake of all Floridians, we are extremely troubled by such a broad expansion of sovereign immunity to a corporation such as the UCFAA when there is very little, if any, state involvement in its actual operations. To allow immunity in such circumstances creates a dangerous precedent for student-athletes and their families.”

The statement also explained that the family planned to petition a review of the case by the Florida Supreme Court.

References:

Insurance Journal

 

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