On March 18, 2008, student athlete Ereck Plancher collapsed and died following off-season conditioning drills at the UCF football complex. A jury later awarded his family 10 million dollars in damages in the wrongful death lawsuit they filed on his behalf.
UCF Athletics Assocaition (UCFAA) appealed the lower court’s decision on two basis:
- The court erred by denying their motion for summary judgment because the release found in the agreement to participate clause of the Medical Examination and Authorization Waiver, which was signed by Plancher, absolved UCFAA of any future negligence.
- UCFAA should be entitled to limited sovereign immunity pursuant to section 768.28(2) and (5), Florida Statutes (2011) which caps damages at $200,000.
Ultimately the appellate court upheld the lower court’s denial of UCFAA’s motion for summary judgment because, “there exists a legitimate disputed fact as to whether the [Authorization Waiver] constituted an unequivocal and unambiguous release of liability.” The court went on to say that, “The exculpatory clause at issue here did not expressly inform Plancher that he would be contracting away his right to sue UCFAA for its own negligence.”
Now on to the second issue of whether a private corporation, UCFAA, is an instrumentality of the state for sovereign immunity purposes. The court explained that the key determining factor is, “The level of governmental control over the performance and day-to-day operations of the corporation.”
Under the facts of this case, the statutes, the bylaws, and the Service Agreement, UCF is allowed the discretion to control UCFAA’s day-to-day operations as much, or as little, as it sees fit. Additionally, UCFAA receives the majority of its funds from UCF, which is clearly a public entity. The appellate court ultimately rejected the Planchers’ assertion that for UCFAA to have sovereign immunity, UCF had to actually control UCFAA’s day-to-day operations. Instead, the court determined, “the power to control is sufficient.”
So what does this mean for the Planchers? As of now, their claim for damages has been reduced to $200,000. It is not yet known whether they plan to file an appeal of their own or pursue damages in excess of $200,000 through the claims bill process, which allows the Florida Legislature to make exceptions to the damages cap for extraordinary situations.
So what does this mean for you? Whether it’s a ticket to a sporting event, eating spicy foods, or participating in sports activities, we come across these “waivers” frequently in our daily lives. As for all legal documents, read them carefully, and if there is a question, ask for clarification or ask an attorney. Be diligent and protect your rights. Signing your name on a piece of paper should not be a free pass for negligent behavior or conditions.
For more information on legal issues regarding wrongful death, do not hesitate to contact top-rated Personal Injury Lawyer in Tampa, John Castro. Request a free consultation using our consultation request form or call Tampa FL Attorney John Castro.
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