The family of Devaughn Darling is seeking unspecified damages from Florida State University, blaming coaches and trainers for the death of the former Seminoles linebacker.
The suit, filed Wednesday in Tallahassee, does not name Florida State coach Bobby Bowden or the coaches and trainers who were present when Darling, 18, collapsed and died during an off-season workout on Feb. 26, 2001.
"That's not really our focus,'' said Michael Lewis, a partner in attorney Willie Gary's Stuart-based law firm. "We are trying to get to what happened. Whether or not they are individually responsible really is unimportant. They were acting in the capacity of their job, and as agents to the state.''
Darling's attorneys said the school was negligent in failing to "develop, plan and execute a conditioning program that was reasonably safe, which would not endanger the lives of its players.''
Asked about a possible monetary demand, Lewis said: "The purpose is to get at the truth of what actually happened. We really have to see how that plays out. The family is more interested to see what happened.''
Darling family members did not return phone messages Wednesday.
Darling's parents, Dennis Darling, Sr., and Wendy Smith, are seeking damages to cover the loss of "support and services" of their son and for the "great mental pain and suffering'' as a result of Devaughn's death.
Florida State University general counsel Richard McFarlain, who has said the school does not believe it is liable, would not comment Wednesday.
"It's just not appropriate to comment on pending lawsuits,'' he said.
Florida State athletic director Dave Hart and Bowden declined comment.
Neither Lewis nor the state would discuss the chances of settling the case. The statutory cap for settlements on law suits against government agencies is $100,000 per entity, or $200,000 in this case. Settlements, though, are often made for much higher amounts, according to Lewis.
The suit claims Florida State coaches and trainers "kept pushing'' Darling while knowing he was experiencing difficulty breathing and was fatigued, and ordered Darling to start over after falling down from dizziness.
According to the suit, Florida State failed to provide "access to water and other fluids,'' "sufficient rest periods,'' "adequate medical and emergency personnel and medical equipment,'' "proper supervisors,'' "proper emergency assistance,'' and an "adequate emergency plan.''
An investigation by the Florida State University police released seven weeks following Darling's death cleared the athletic department from any wrongdoing. The report concluded that Florida State coaches and its sports medicine staff should not be held responsible for Darling's death.
When the state is served, the suit will be handled by the Department of Insurance division of risk management, which will assign an attorney to the case.
"We will look at the suit and the allegations and see who we'll assign it to,'' said Trilly Lester, the director of the division of risk management.
The state has 30 days to answer the suit before starting discovery, which could include deposition and possible settlement talks.
"We are going to very vigorously move this case forward,'' Lewis said. "If it happens during the football season, so be it. We'll want to depose the players, the coaches, the trainers.
"(For some) the concern is not about the individuals out there playing. But they haven't lost someone. For them, this is an inconvenience to the season. I'm sure that's not how Florida State looks at it, but that's how the fans look at it.''