Deceased FSU player’s brother says bill provides closure

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Devard Darling said his family can finally feel closure after the Florida Legislature passed a bill on Tuesday to compensate his parents $1.8 million for the death of his twin brother, Devaughn Darling, a Florida State football player who died during team drills.

The bill’s passage comes more than 16 years after Devaughn Darling’s death. It’s been nearly 13 years since Florida State agreed to the cash settlement, but Florida law prohibits the university from paying more than $200,000 without legislative authorization.

“It is something we have been looking forward to for a long time,” Devard Darling said. “My mom has wanted to see this all the way through. Finally we can move on.”

The House approved the bill 112-4 on April 26, and it passed the Senate by a 34-2 vote Tuesday. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

Devaughn Darling died on Feb. 27, 2001, after doing indoor drills during offseason training. He had the sickle-cell trait, which can make people vulnerable to illness from exertion.

His parents, Wendy Smith and Dennis Darling Sr., filed a lawsuit against Florida State in October 2002, alleging negligence by trainers. The university agreed to settle in June 2004, for $2 million.

This was the 13th consecutive legislative session in which a claims bill was filed on behalf of the family. From 2005-14, it was not heard in a committee in either chamber. In 2015, it was heard in one committee in the House and Senate. Last year, the family and Darling’s former teammates held a press conference in front of the Senate chamber to bring more attention to the bill. Coincidentally, it was held on Florida State Day at the Capitol.

The bill got through two of three Senate committees but was heard in just one in the House. Devard Darling said they decided against another press conference this year because of the emotional strain it caused the family last year.

He said he started to feel hopeful the bill would pass this year when it got through all three House and Senate committees to reach the chamber floors.

Senate Democrat leader Oscar Braynon, who was one of the sponsors of the bill, is a Florida State graduate and said getting the claims bill passed has been a long time coming.

“The whole time I’ve been in the Legislature we’ve been pushing for it. When it comes down to school claims bills, it can be tricky, but it’s about time we finally passed it,” he said.

The $1.8 million will come from FSU, which has denied any negligent conduct but supported passage of a claim bill. After attorney and lobbying fees, the family will receive at least $1.3 million.

Devard Darling also had the sickle-cell trait and was not cleared by FSU trainers to return following Devaughn’s death. He subsequently transferred to Washington State University before being drafted as a wide receiver by Baltimore in 2004. He played six seasons in the NFL for the Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs.

Devard Darling said he hopes his family can have better relations with Florida State. Devaughn Darling was buried in his FSU uniform, and there is a plaque honoring him near the practice fields.

“The university is a huge part of our lives. Everything is always bittersweet when I return to Tallahassee. Hopefully we can mend our relationship,” Devard Darling said.