Football Player's Death Won't Cost School $10M
(CN) - The family of a football player who died after a conditioning session is not entitled to $10 million from the University of Central Florida, a state appeals court ruled.
Ereck Plancher II died in March 2008 after collapsing twice during an off-season conditioning session. His family sued the school and its athletic association for wrongful death.
The family claimed that the school owed students like Plancher, who had a sickle-cell trait, a duty to "develop, plan and execute a conditioning program that was reasonably safe and would not endanger the lives of its players."
The Plancher family dismissed the university from the lawsuit on the first day of trial and continued the legal battle against the University of Central Florida Athletics Association (UCFAA), which runs the Knights athletic programs.
An Orange County judge ruled in the Planchers' favor, and UCFAA's appeal pointed to Plancher's signed medical release and sovereign immunity.
As to the medical release, the Fifth District Florida Court of Appeals found Friday that its language did not clearly state that Plancher was signing away his right to sue.
The panel of judges reversed, however, on the other issue, ruling that the UCFAA is entitled to the same immunity as a state agency that protects the university from having to pay a judgment over $200,000.
In an unsigned opinion, the court emphasized that "UCF's president remains responsible for the athletic department." The head coach and trainer, on the other hand, are not state employees and are instead employed by the UCFAA.
"While UCFAA is a private corporation, it is not an autonomous and self-sufficient entity," the three-judge panel said. "Rather, UCF created UCFAA in order to take advantage of a privatized athletics program and to accept private donations from donors who wish to remain anonymous."
The judgment reduces the award for the Planchers to the statutory cap of $200,000.
In a partial dissent, Judge Wendy Berger said that the UCFAA should have also prevailed on the issue of the medical release.
"In my view, the release signed by Ereck Plancher was clear, unambiguous and enforceable," Berger wrote.
Berger also wrote the related opinion, reversing the trial court's award of $2.4 million in attorneys' fees and costs to the Plancher family.