Parents of football player file wrongful death suit against Federal Way district

Seven months after the death of 16-year-old Allen Harris, his family is suing the district for alleged negligence.

Federal Way Public Schools faces a wrongful death lawsuit after 16-year-old Allen Harris suddenly collapsed during an outdoor practice at Federal Way High School and died later that afternoon last summer.

An autopsy later determined that Harris had a previously unknown condition called hypertrophic cardio myopathy, where the heart muscles become abnormally thick, making pumping blood very difficult.

The lawsuit, filed by Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma on behalf of Harris’s parents Dinitia and Roderick Harris, claims that the district could have prevented the student’s death. Harris’s death was caused by the district’s alleged lack of training for medical emergency situations, the suit continues.

“Allen died as a result of the Federal Way Public School’s failure to plan for foreseeable medical emergencies and to do its job to provide emergency medical aid to a student athlete during a football practice on the school premises,” according to the suit, which noted the district also allegedly failed to use appropriate aid measures and technology for athletes who experience sudden cardiac arrest.

According to the suit, more than 250,000 athletes experience sudden cardiac arrests each year, so being able to identify and respond to the condition is imperative for the athlete’s survival.

“In this case, the Federal Way School District failed in each and every respect,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also claims the students were required to run wind sprints during a very hot afternoon on July 24, 2018, during the first practice of the summer before the students were conditioned and without proper breaks and hydration.

The suit cites that an initial investigation into the case revealed the coaches were unaware of the requirements and failed to recognize Harris was in cardiac arrest and did nothing, which directly resulted in his passing.

According to RCW 28A.300.471 enacted in 2013, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction was required to help develop guidance for medical emergency response and automated external defibrillator program for high schools.

On the OSPI website, there are guidelines that require each school district that operates a high school to develop its own medical emergency response plan, to include access to trainings for school employees and implementing public access defibrillator program using an AED.

In 2015, the state Legislature passed HB 5083 to increase awareness and education of sudden cardiac arrest death in student athletes.

The suit describes how Harris collapsed and started showing signs of cardiac arrest, and while assistant football Coach Elijah Miller called 911 to report the incident, allegedy none of the coaches recognized the symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest as they are required to. The suit also claims that the coaches failed to use a nearby AED that would have saved Allen’s life.

“Instead, they chalked the [sudden cardiac arrest] up to a seizure and had another player poor water on Allen’s head,” the suit continues, noting that Harris was on the ground for 12 minutes before aid arrived. “Nothing was done to assist Allen as he lay on the ground in cardiac arrest.”

The family is suing FWPS for negligence on several counts, including the alleged failure to protect a student and plan for a medical emergency.

Immediately following Harris’s passing in July, FWPS released a statement citing deep saddness over the loss of the student, previously reported in the Mirror. The letter also explained the district would be suspending all outdoor activity over the next 72 hours to evaluate the safety procedures they had in place.

Kassie Swenson, chief of communications and strategy for FWPS, told the Mirror in an email statement on Monday the district is reviewing the lawsuit.

“The district continues to offer condolences to the family.” Swenson said. “Federal Way Public Schools received the lawsuit on February 13 and is reviewing the allegations.”

She also said the district follows all guidelines the WIAA has set forth for athletic directors and coach trainings.

According to the lawsuit documents, the WIAA offers a training video to assist coaches in identifying the most common symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest and responding to this emergency.

The attorneys representing the Harris family were unavailable for immediate comment.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.