ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The legal fight between the University of Central Florida and the family of a football player who collapsed and died following conditioning drills is headed for Florida's highest court.
On Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of the reduction of the monetary award in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Ereck Plancher, who died in 2008.
The court issued an order accepting jurisdiction in the case, but will not be hearing oral arguments. It instead is choosing review the case record and legal briefs from attorneys.
In August 2013, a three-judge appeals' court panel reduced a jury's $10 million civil trial damage judgment awarded to Plancher's parents in 2011 to $200,000.
The court ruled UCF's power of control over its athletics association — UCFAA — was sufficient for sovereign immunity afforded to state agencies in civil judgments. The $200,000 figure is the most a state agency is required to pay under legislative statute. Any higher amount requires approval of the legislature. The appeals' court also overturned attorney's fees the Plancher's attorneys were awarded.
"Whether the advocacy is written or oral, this family has a just cause," Steve Yerrid, an attorney for the Plancher family, told The Associated Press Wednesday. "We have advocated for this case for a substantial period of time. My confidence in the notion of justice has only been enhanced by my experiences. I feel these justices will find a way to do what's right for this Florida family."
The Supreme Court's ruling in this case could impact how universities in Florida administer their athletic programs in the future. UCF and several other universities run their athletic programs as private, direct-support organizations which are granted certain state agency protections, including the statutory cap for legal judgments.
A ruling against the UCF athletics association in this case could make it and other state athletic DSOs vulnerable to uncapped judgments in future legal cases.
"We believe the opinion from the Fifth District Court of Appeal was thoughtful and well-reasoned," UCF spokesman Grant Heston said in a statement. "We are hopeful the Florida Supreme Court will uphold that opinion, one that is of great importance to public universities in Florida."
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