Posted by Adam Jacobi
A jury in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Florida decided Thursday to award $10 million to the parents of late University of Central Florida football player Ereck Plancher more than three years after Plancher died during workouts in March 2008. The jury found the University of Central Florida Athletic Association (UCFAA) negligent in Plancher's death, which an Orange County medical examiner determined was due to complications from sickle cell trait. The jury did not find gross negligence on UCFAA's part, eliminating the need for additional punitive damages.
As the Orlando Sentinel reports, the Plancher family's lawyer emphasized the importance of player safety:
"If there's one message that we have sent very loudly and clearly, the welfare of any student athlete is at the top of any football program," Plancher family attorney Steve Yerrid said. "And that's how to have a winning program."
The Planchers declined to speak immediately after the verdict, allowing Yerrid to make a statement on their behalf.
Yerrid confirmed late Thursday night the Planchers turned down a settlement offer and UCFAA is responsible for the family's court costs. He estimated those could be about $1.5 million.
This ruling will probably not end the saga once and for all, however. Central Florida only has $8.5 million budgeted for football for the entire year, so it remains to be seen where the $10 million would come from. Additionally, that figure might not be what UCF ends up paying after the case is all said and done; UCF attorneys plan to appeal the decision, citing what they feel is "an ample of appeal opportunity" throughout the trial's proceedings.
The two parties continued to disagree Friday, with Yerrid telling CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd that UCF had turned down an offer to settle the case for the sum of $4.7 million. UCF spokesman Grant Heston vehemently denied Yerrid's claim, calling the after-the-fact allegation "very poor form" and adding that Yerrid's settlement offer had been well above the final $10 million number.
UCFAA lawyers contended throughout the trial that Plancher's death could not have been caused by sickle cell trait, producing Boston University hematologist Dr. Martin Steinberg to testify to that claim, and that Plancher's death was the result of a previously unknown heart condition and thus unpreventable. The jury evidently did not agree with that assessment, though it's possible they agreed that head coach George O'Leary -- who some former players testified had punished Plancher in ways that might have contributed to his death -- bore no responsibility.
"I think the fact that punitive damages were not awarded shows that there was no credence to allegations that Coach [George] O'Leary withheld water or ordered trainers out [of the football facility]," Heston told CBSSports.com.