TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — New protections are in place for Hillsborough student athletes after Hezekiah Walters died from heat stroke last summer.
The district also reached a million dollar settlement with the former Middleton High School football player’s family. While no amount of money will bring the 14-year-old back, it can help his family with bills, expenses, and grief.
But the family’s attorney argues that had Walters gone to school in another local district, it’s likely the family would not have received nearly as much.
Sovereign immunity in Florida means you can only sue a public entity, like a school district, when neglience leads to personal injury. Under the sovereign immunity waiver, the absolute most you can recover in damages is $300,000.
Districts, like Hillsborough, can opt for more insurance beyond that but the Florida High School Athletic Association does not require it as it once did.
Hillsborough has carried a million dollar general liability policy since 2015, following the traumatic brain injury of Wharton High School football player Sean McNamee.
Back then, the district did not carry the million dollar minimum coverage previously required by the FHSAA. McNamee’s family attorney Steve Yerrid, who also now represents the Walters family, sued.
During that case, Yerrid discovery that not only was Hillsborough out of compliance: every district in the state was. But instead of enforcing, the association eliminated the rule.
Updated FHSAA guidelines obtained by 8 On Your Side reflect the policy change, lowering the general liability coverage to the $300,000 cap allotted in the state’s sovereign immunity law.
“They went backwards,” Yerrid said. “That’s what we want now?”
So unless a county goes beyond what’s required, as Hillsborough opted to, damages for a student athlete death or severe injury are capped at $300,000 by the state’s sovereign immunity law.
Some, like Yerrid, argue a kid’s life is worth much more than that.
“Let’s get a solution that protects all student athletes in Florida,” Yerrid said. “We are not going to stop until that’s done.”
8 On Your Side reached out to the Florida High School Athletic Association to ask why it scaled back the insurance requirement. We are still waiting to hear back.
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