Federal Way schools to pay $5.25M settlement after student athlete’s death

Allen Harris, 16, died during a summer football workout in 2018.

Federal Way Public Schools district will pay a $5.25 million settlement to the parents of Allen Harris, a 16-year-old student who died during a summer football practice in 2018, according to the family’s attorney.

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the school district in Aug. 2019 by Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma on behalf of Allen’s parents. The Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) district appealed the suit and the Court of Appeals sided with the Harris family, ruling that the district “owed a duty to student athletes, such as Allen, to prepare for medical emergencies,” according to a statement from Micah LeBank, an attorney representing the Harris family.

The lawsuit found the Federal Way High School coaches had not been properly trained to identify sudden cardiac arrest signs and the school had “failed to perform drills that would help the coaches respond in the event of an emergency,” according to court records. The settlement was reached in early November 2022.

“The tragic loss of Allen Harris in 2018 was felt across Federal Way Public Schools, and those who knew him continue to feel this loss,” said Whitney Chiang, chief of communications for the school district. “We know our coaches did their best in a very difficult situation. The district’s risk pool agreed to settle and pay this claim through a mediated process. Our hearts go out to those who continue to grieve the loss of this bright young man.”

Allen’s cause of death was determined by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office to be cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes an abnormal thickening of the heart muscles and can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

While the school had hired an outside provider to prepare an Emergency Action Plan (EAP), the plan was not provided to coaches, nor were the coaches aware of the plan, documents state. In addition, Washington Interscholastic Athletics Association (WIAA) trainings instruct coaches to assume the person is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, to immediately start CPR and obtain a automated external defibrillator (AED) if a person collapses for no reason and is unresponsive.

“The coaches were not familiar with this training and mistook Allen’s [sudden cardiac arrest] for a seizure,” LeBank said.

On July 24, 2018, the Federal Way High School Eagles football team held an outdoor conditioning workout practice at Federal Way Memorial Field. Temperatures on that day hovered around mid-80s in an “exceptionally hot” day, according to court documents.

The players had been sprinting for about 15 to 20 minutes. They were returning for another set of sprints when at about 2:39 p.m., Allen collapsed and began having what appeared to be seizures, documents state. Allen had no history of seizures and did not sustain any head trauma when he collapsed.

A coach who reached Allen said the student’s eyes had rolled back and he was seizing, documents state. The team’s head coach was out of town during this practice and an athletic trainer was not on site.

“Even though these represented clear signs of [sudden cardiac arrest], the coaches believed that Allen was simply having a seizure and had another player pour water on his head. No one did CPR and no one went to obtain the AED that was a mere 20-30 seconds away,” according to LeBank and records from the Court of Appeals.

Records show it was roughly 10 minutes from the time of Allen’s collapse to the CPR first being initiated. It would be an estimated total of 12 minutes from the time of his collapse to the first AED shock. Allen was transported to St. Francis Hospital where he later died.

Allen is survived by his parents Rod and Dee Harris.

In a statement, the Harris family said they hope this settlement “will encourage school districts to train their coaches to identify and respond to Sudden Cardiac Arrest and hope that Allen’s legacy can save the lives of other students and student athletes.”

Allen Harris, 16, died of sudden cardiac arrest after running sprints during an outdoor practice at Federal Way High School on a hot summer day last July. Courtesy photo

Allen Harris, 16, died of sudden cardiac arrest after running sprints during an outdoor practice at Federal Way High School on a hot summer day last July. Courtesy photo