Stetson University’s appeal has been dismissed by the Florida Supreme Court in relation to a legal dispute dating back to 2017. The lawsuit concerns the tragic death of Nick Blakely, a 19-year-old football player, who collapsed on the sideline during a practice. The result of the recent decision is that the family of Nick Blakely can pursue their legal action against the university. Although the Supreme Court did not provide reasons for their decision, they have effectively upheld the earlier ruling of the 5th District Court of Appeal.
According to the ruling, Blakely withdrew himself from practice in August 2017, after noticing symptoms of dizziness and tightness in his chest. An assistant athletic trainer assessed him and ordered rest in the shade whilst monitoring his pulse and hydration levels. Despite these efforts, Blakely ultimately collapsed and was unable to be revived by Stetson workers.
Blakely’s family launched a lawsuit against the university for negligence, with the university previously stating they were shielded by Blakely’s signed releases to play football. However, in December 2022, the 5th District Court of Appeal overturned this decision, stating that the exculpatory clause in the releases – which set the terms and conditions for Blakely’s participation – was not clear and, therefore, unenforceable.
Following this decision, Stetson requested the involvement of the Supreme Court, arguing that they believed the verdict conflicted with previous rulings in similar, related cases. These included disputes involving the Broward County School Board and the Monroe County School Board. Stetson’s legal representatives claimed that the district courts interpreted similar contractual language that was not “meaningfully distinguishable” from the language in the Blakely case.
However, the family’s attorneys contested that there was little possibility of conflict between the cases because the language in the respective releases was entirely different. In a list of further allegations filed in a March brief, the family’s attorneys claimed, “Nick died due to the repeated negligent failures by Stetson to recognize the warning signs presented by Nick’s condition and to take the necessary actions to protect him.”
Finally, the Nick Blakely Foundation, in remembrance of Nick’s tragic death, works hard to raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest by advocating for better safety guidelines and training protocols in athletic associations and schools, developing more extensive access to automated external defibrillators, and educating the public about sudden cardiac arrest.