A Florida judge has issued a key ruling in a closely watched wrongful death case that may have implications for student athletes here in Oregon and elsewhere.
The case concerns the death of Ereck Plancher, a 19-year-old student and football player at the University of Central Florida. Plancher died in March 2008 after collapsing during a spring workout that was being supervised by the university football coach. According to the Orlando Sentinel “an autopsy found that the stress of the workout triggered Plancher’s sickle cell trait, causing misshapen blood cells to damage his organs and shut down his body.”
Though the university “contends it did everything possible to save his life,” Plancher’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the school, its trustees and the UCF Athletics Association. Last week’s ruling allowed the parents to seek punitive damages in the case, but instructed the jury only to award such damages if the jurors “specifically find that no water and no athletic trainers were present for the final portion of Palncher’s workout.”
This case is worth watching, even from across the continent, because of the increased attention that safety among student athletes has been receiving, especially here in Oregon. Much of this attention has focused on Oregon traumatic brain injuries and Oregon spinal cord injuries. Still, wrongful death stemming from an overly intense workout, or inadequate precautions on the part of a school or its coaching staff, have emerged as issues in several cases in different parts of the country, and it is worth paying attention to how different courts resolve these issues.
The attorney representing the victim’s family put it well, telling the Sentinel: “It’s not about compensating the Plancher family, it’s about stopping football programs from disregarding the safety of student athletes.” Here in Portland, any Oregon wrongful death and traumatic brain injury attorney would agree with that sentiment.