Jury selection will stretch into a third day in the Ereck Plancher wrongful death trial.
Circuit Judge Robert M. Evans hoped to complete jury selection by 5 p.m. Tuesday, but it will take a third day to complete the process due to extensive objections and disputes among the attorneys. Evans said in his 17 years as a trial judge, he had never seen jury selection in a civil case take three days and strongly urged the attorneys to use "common sense" and pick up the pace of jury selection.
Evans released the current pool of 22 potential jurors and asked them return to the courthouse at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The judge and attorneys will eventually pick six jurors and two alternate jurors to hear the case.
Plancher, a 19-year-old football player, collapsed and died following a March 18, 2008 workout supervised by UCF coach George O'Leary and his staff.
An autopsy released in July 2008 stated Plancher had sickle cell trait, a condition that causes cells to warp and attack organs when the body is under extreme stress. The medical examiner determined Plancher's sickle cell trait was triggered and caused "vascular distress," contributing to his death.
His parents, Enock and Gisele Plancher, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the UCF board of trustees and UCF Athletics Association in March 2009, arguing UCF staff members failed to properly treat Ereck Plancher for complications of sickle cell trait that contributed to his death.
UCF called Plancher's death a tragedy and insists its staff did everything possible to save his life.
The attorneys representing the family of Ereck Plancher triggered a major change in the case Monday morning, withdrawing their claim against the UCF board of trustees.
Attorney Steve Yerrid stated the Plancher family would proceed with its claim against the UCF Athletics Association, which Evans previously ruled is a private entity not protected by Florida laws capping potential payouts beyond $200,000 without approval from the state agency. As a result, UCFAA could face unlimited claims in the case.
UCFAA plans to appeal the ruling on its status as a private entity following the completion of the jury trial.
Plancher's parents were in the courtroom again Tuesday and are expected to attend the entire trial.
The judge asked the potential jurors Monday whether they had heard about the civil lawsuit and would be able to offer a fair evaluation of the facts, whether they knew anyone directly involved with the case and whether they had any personal hardships that would make it difficult for them to serve on the jury for the trial expected to last three weeks. Evans ultimately dismissed 18 potential jurors from the first pool and eight potential jurors from the second pool of potential jurors Monday. It left the judge with 32 potential jurors before the attorneys began asking questions and using their strike options Tuesday.
Evans decided to dismiss two more potential jurors Tuesday morning after considering their conflicts for the evening because they had long-time family vacation plans.
Another potential juror was removed because she did not appear for duty Tuesday morning.
The Plancher family attorneys lobbied to keep minority potential jurors despite potential scheduling conflicts, while the UCF Athletics Association attorneys were eager to keep business owners in the pool of potential jurors despite economic strain on their families.
Before the potential jurors entered the courtroom Tuesday, the judge address the attorneys over instructions that will be read to the jury before opening statements. The judge grew frustrated as the debate before the jurors entered the courtroom continued for two hours.
Many of the special jury instructions, including the potential note about liability waivers Ereck Plancher signed before joining the UCF football team, were proposed by the UCF attorneys.
UCFAA attorney Kevin Taylor also asked to take the jury on a tour of the weight room and indoor practice facility, the scene of Plancher's final workout.