Florida Appeals Court Reverses Lower Court Decision in Wrongful Death Case

In a recent case, the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Florida issued an opinion in an appeal involving a wrongful death complaint between the Appellants, the plaintiff, and the Appellee, Stetson University. The plaintiff sued Stetson for wrongful death after Nicholas Blakely died from cardiac arrest during a Stetson football team practice. The trial court found that two identical releases signed by Blakely before the 2016 and 2017 seasons in order to play football were sufficiently clear to bar claims brought against Stetson arising from the cardiac death.

Blakely was a student and scholarship football player at Stetson in 2016 and 2017, his freshman and sophomore years of college. On August 28, 2017, he removed himself from an afternoon practice, complaining of dizziness and chest tightness. The assistant athletic trainer took his pulse, gave him water, removed his helmet, and loosened his pads before sending him over to some shade. Approximately forty to forty-five minutes later, Blakely collapsed. Although Stetson staff called 911 and attempted various emergency medical procedures, Blakely died after being transported to the hospital. The record evidence shows that during an April 2017 practice, Blakely had complained of chest tightness and had mentioned to trainers that he experienced chest tightness twice in high school. There is further record evidence that on the morning of August 28, 2017, Blakely informed the head football athletic trainer that he was not feeling well, complaining of a bad cough, chest congestion, and shallow breathing. The trainer believed he had a cold and did not refer him to the student health clinic, instead allowing him to participate in practice that day without restrictions.

On appeal, the plaintiff raised two issues. First, that the language in the release was insufficient to be enforceable as a matter of law, and second that genuine issues of material fact exist concerning the scope of the release and whether Stetson’s alleged tortious conduct fell within that scope. The appellate court decision found merit in the plaintiff’s first argument, subsequently reversing the final judgment entered in favor of Stetson, and thus did not feel the need to address the second issue. The opinion stated that the combined factors surrounding the release, including the language found within, allowed the court to determine that the exculpatory clause was not clear and unambiguous and that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Stetson.

On cross-appeal, Stetson argued that an appellate ruling reversing the final judgment of the trial court should also reverse the trial court’s order allowing the plaintiff to add a claim for punitive damages. The appellate court decision found merit in the cross-appeal argument presented by Stetson, reversing the order for punitive damages from the trial court as well. The appellate opinion stated that the plaintiff’s evidence fell short of the appropriate standard, concluding that the trial court erred in granting the plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to add a claim for punitive damages.

Have You Lost a Loved One Due to Another’s Negligence?

If you or someone you love has suffered serious or fatal injuries in Florida, the lawyers at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada can help you understand your rights and the remedies available to you under Florida law. Our team of wrongful death attorneys has successfully advocated for injured individuals throughout Florida for 46 years. Expenses from injuries or harm can quickly become overwhelming, and having an experienced roster of attorneys by your side can make a world of difference for your claim. Make sure that you make the most out of your claim and get the award that you deserve. Contact our team at 305-448-8585 to schedule a free and no-obligation initial consultation with a lawyer at our office.

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