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University athletic association protected under sovereign immunity Supreme Court rules

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The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the University of Central Florida’s Athletic Association has sovereign immunity and the parents of a deceased football player need to file a claims bill if they are to collect on a $10 million jury verdict.

The unanimous ruling in Enock Plancher v. UCF Athletics Association affirms in part a decision from the Fifth District Court of Appeal that overturned a trial court ruling that the direct support organization did not have sovereign immunity. A jury subsequently went on to award the parents as $10 million verdict.

The Supreme Court did, however, quash the Fifth District’s decision to reduce the parent’s jury verdict from $10 million to the $200,000 as allowable under the sovereign immunity law. Instead, the court remanded for entry of a judgment of $10 million.

University of Central Florida football player Enock Plancher in 2008 died during football conditioning training. The parents filed a negligence suit against the direct-support organization responsible for administering the athletics department.

The athletic association filed a motion to dismiss arguing that it was protected by sovereign immunity, but the trial court judge ruled that the “undisputed evidence” showed the association was not under control of the University of Central Florida and therefore was not entitled to the protections. A jury subsequently awarded the family $10 million.

On appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled that the direct support organization was entitled to sovereign immunity and, furthermore, limited the jury verdict to the $200,000 cap under sovereign immunity.

The parents unsuccessfully argued that control over a corporation’s day-to-day operations must be exercised for that corporation to be entitled to limited sovereign immunity under.

The Supreme Court disagreed.

“(I)t is unnecessary for this Court to decide whether actual control, rather than the right of control, is required because here UCF exercises both levels of control over UCFAA and its operations,” today’s opinion reads. “Specifically, UCF maintains the right to control and actually controls UCFAA’s board of directors as well as UCFAA’s continued existence.”

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