Blog Entry

Dueling settlement accusations in Plancher case

Posted on: July 1, 2011 12:35 pm
Edited on: July 4, 2011 11:35 am
The two sides continue to squabble a day after what is believed to be the largest award in a wrongful death lawsuit involving sickle cell trait.

Steve Yerrid, the lead attorney in the Ereck Plancher wrongful death suit told Friday that Central Florida turned down a $4.7 million offer to settle the case. After first denying on Friday morning that such an offer was made, a Central Florida spokesman later confirmed the offer. It was rejected, he said, by the school's insurance carriers. Central Florida says that during the trial, Yerrid proposed a settlement for more than the $10 million eventually awarded Plancher's parents on Thursday. It too was rejected.

A jury decided Thursday night that the school's athletic association was negligent in the March 2008 death of Plancher. An autopsy showed that the player died from complications due to sickle cell trait. Plancher's parents were awarded $5 million each. The jury did not award punitive damages. Heston reiterated that the school plans to appeal.

Yerrid also said Friday morning he would be filing a motion to recoup approximately $2 million attorney's fees and costs from the defendants.

"A while ago we filed a proposal for settlement for $4.7 million ... We offered to settle the case for $4.7 million," Yerrid said. "Their response was zero ... It will be an even dozen [million dollars] before it gets done. When you have a scorched-earth defense, you get scorched."

Plancher died after collapsing during an offseason, non-contact workout in March 2008. Twenty-one college football players have died from exertional stress in non-contact drills since 2000. Approximately half of those were related to complications from sickle cell trait.

"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]," said that spokesman Grant Heston.

Heston added that it was not the school's decision to accept a settlement -- "The insurance company calls the shots." He said the $10 million falls within the boundaries of the insurance coverage.

Three other high-profile cases involving sickle cell trait all ended in settlements for significantly less than $10 million at Florida State, Missouri and Rice.

Yerrid, a noted attorney in liability and wrongful death cases, said the verdict would rank "in the top 20" in his career. He won an $11.4 billion settlement from the tobacco industry in 1997. In 2006, his client was awarded $216 million in a medical malpractice suit. At the time it was believed to be the largest medical malpractice award in a jury trial in Florida's history.

"The fact that other parents will be spared this horrific tragedy, that's what's important for the sports world," Yerrid said of the Plancher verdict. "It directly affects the sickle cell athlete. That effect will certainly carry over to all athletics, reestablishing that student-athlete welfare should be at the front of the list, not at the back."

Category: NCAAF
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