Florida Appeals Court Reduces Ten Million Dollar Award In Wrongful Death Of UCF Football Player

Last month, the Insurance Journal published an article discussing a recent decision by Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals reducing the damages awarded in the case of a University of Central Florida football player who died following conditioning drills in 2008. The Court’s decision reduced the damages awarded to the family of former wide receiver Ereck Plancher on their wrongful death claim against the UCF Athletic Association from $10 million to $200,000. In the same opinion, the Court denied a request from the UCFAA seeking a new trial.

Plancher’s family, with the help of a Florida wrongful death attorney, filed the wrongful death suit against the UCFAA in 2009, claiming that coaches and school officials were negligent forcing Plancher to engage in a strenuous workout without water and with no trainer present. The UCFAA officials argued that the university did everything necessary to save Plancher’s life and his death was caused be a heart ailment. Following a trial in 2011, a jury found the UCFAA negligent and awarded Plancher’s parents $5 million each.

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Under the Florida Wrongful Death Act, codified at Florida Statutes §768.16, et seq.,
certain family members of a deceased individual may seek compensation from an entity or individual that caused the fatality through negligence, recklessness, or deliberate behavior. Family that are permitted to obtain a recovery in Florida are referred to as potential beneficiaries or survivors, and include a spouse, child or parent, as well as any other relative or adoptive sibling that was dependent on the deceased for financial or emotional support. Survivors are entitled to recover the value of lost support and services from the date of the decedent’s injury to her or his death and the future loss of support and services from the date of death.

In reducing the Plancher’s award, the three-judge panel determined that, due to the amount of power UCF exercised over the athletics association, the athletics association was entitled to protection from the sovereign immunity afforded to state agencies in civil judgments. The Court opined, the 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.” The Court also determined that the medical release form Plancher signed did not expressly waive his rights to sue the UCFAA.

Judge Wendy Berger agreed the UCFAA was entitled to limited sovereign immunity, stating, however, that “as the jury found, it was both the coaching staff’s actions and inactions that led to the tragic death of Ereck Plancher. It is difficult to comprehend how one human being can ignore another in obvious distress or prevent someone else from offering aid to one in distress, but, inexplicably, that is what happened here.”
Unfortunately, wrongful death claims can arise from any number of unfortunate circumstances, including reckless drivers, medical malpractice, premises liability, defective products, or, as in the case of Plancher, improper supervision.

The qualified attorneys of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. have decades of experience representing individuals who have been injured or killed by the negligent acts of another. If you or someone you know has been injured or killed as a result of the negligence of another person, contact the attorneys of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today.

Photo Credit: Mr. Hernonymous via Compfight cc

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