Tampa Bay Times
8/14/2014
Times Wires

ORLANDO — The legal fight between UCF and the family of a player who collapsed and died after conditioning drills is headed for the state’s highest court.

The Florida Supreme Court agreed Wednesday to hear an appeal of the reduction of the monetary award in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Ereck Plancher, a 19-year-old wide receiver from Naples who died in 2008. The court issued an order accepting jurisdiction, but it will not be hearing oral arguments. It instead is choosing to 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.

It 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 Supreme Court’s ruling 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 that are granted certain state agency protections, including the statutory cap for legal judgments. A ruling against the UCF athletics association could make it and other state athletic direct support organizations vulnerable to uncapped judgments in future legal cases.