Central Florida will have damages capped at $200,000 in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of a former player who died during a 2008 practice, an appeals court ruled Friday.
The ruling strikes down a $10 million jury verdict (plus attorney fees) won by the family of former UCF player Ereck Plancher in 2011. The University of Central Florida Athletic Association was found guilty of negligence in July of that year in the death of Plancher, a running back. Plancher collapsed during an offseason conditioning drill in March 2008 and later died due to complications from sickle cell trait. At trial, his family was awarded $10 million, plus the school was liable for the attorney fees that could have pushed the total near $14 million.
UCF argued successfully in the Fifth District Court of Appeals that the school was subject to the concept of sovereign immunity, which caps UCF's damages at $200,000. Sovereign immunity is a concept granted to state agencies in civil judgments. Any amount over $200,000 has to be approved by the state legislature, according to the Associated Press.
Plancher's attorney said he will seek review of the decision by the Florida Supreme Court.
"The Planchers entrused their son to the UCF Athletics Association and indviduals within that organization took 'actions and inactions' that killed him," attorney Steve Yerrid said in a statement released Friday evening.
After the original verdict, UCF and its insurance company, Great American, appealed in May 2012. Florida and Florida State attached their names to the appeal in an amicus brief as friends of the court, CBSSports.com reported last year.
One appeals judge criticized coach George O'Leary and his staff.
"My opinion regarding the enforceability of the release should not be interpreted to condone the egregious conduct of the UCFAA coaching staff," wrote judge Wendy Berger. "Indeed, as it appears and 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."