Enock and Gisele Plancher, parents of University of Central Florida football player Ereck Plancher, said they felt an intense obligation to pray for hours after their legal victory.
"We had to say thank you because we got justice," Gisele Plancher said in an exclusive interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
A jury found the UCF Athletics Association negligent in their son's death, awarding the Plancher family $10 million in damages late Thursday night. Plancher collapsed and died following offseason conditioning drills at the UCF football complex on March 18, 2008.
Orange County medical examiner Joshua Stephany testified Plancher died from complications of sickle cell trait. Stephany told the jury extreme stress caused Plancher's red blood cells to sickle, or warp, and quickly damaged his major organs. Dr. Randy Eichner, an expert witness hired by the Plancher family who has spent 25 years studying sickle cell trait, told the jury Plancher could have been saved if UCFAA staff members treated him properly when he first showed signs of distress during his final workout.
UCFAA attorneys argued Plancher suffered from an undiagnosed heart condition and no one was responsible for his death.
The jury determined there was not "clear and convincing evidence" UCFAA was liable for gross negligence and UCFAA should not pay punitive damages in the case.
The Planchers said they were devastated by the loss of their oldest son, an honor student who had a close bond with his mother, father and younger brother.
Enock Plancher said they decided to file the lawsuit because his family never got clear answers about what happened during their son's final UCF football workout.
"We want really to know the truth about how Ereck died," said Enock Plancher, who grew up in Haiti and raised his family in Naples. "They didn't want to tell us the truth. And also, we want to teach them a lesson about how to protect their kids."
The Planchers said they hope their legal victory helps other college athletes.
"We don't want that to happen to other kids who's playing football, especially sickle cell trait athletes," Gisele Plancher said.
UCFAA attorneys turned down a Plancher family settlement offer of about $4.75 million, so the Plancher legal team plans to file a motion asking UCFAA to pay its $1.5 million legal fees. The UCF board of trustees filed a motion asking the Planchers to pay $90,000 in legal fees after they dropped their claim against the university on June 13.
UCFAA plans to appeal a long list of issues related to the trial.
"Justice was not done," UCF spokesman Grant Heston said. "While we appreciate the hard work of the jury, the wrong decision was reached."
Enock Plancher said he believes his family did get justice, adding he never would have had a chance for a fair trial in his native Haiti.
The Planchers thanked friends and family members who have been praying for them since the day their son died. They also thanked their legal team, including Steve Yerrid, J.D. Dowell, David Dickey and Jeff Murphy.
"It was really a good time for us," Enock Plancher said of the verdict. "We see the way the justice of this country work. That really different from my country."
email@example.com or 407-650-6353. Read Iliana Limón's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/knightsnotepad for more UCF coverage.Visit OrlandoSentinel.com/sports Sunday to read more highlights of the exclusive interview with the Plancher family.