Bowman Family Sues Bigfork School District, Employees

By Beacon Staff

The family of Jeffrey Bowman, a Bigfork teenager who collapsed on the first day of high school football practice last year and died a week later, has filed suit against the Bigfork School District 38, Bigfork High School head football coach Bruce Corbett and former BHS Activities Director Shannon Smith.

Bob and Troy Bowman filed a lawsuit requesting damages and a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Wednesday, Aug. 13 – exactly one year after their son’s collapse. The couple, which had moved to Bigfork from the Denver area shortly before Jeffrey Bowman’s death and has since returned to Colorado, is represented by Denver attorney Dan Caplis.

Bowman, 17, collapsed while running laps on the BHS football field during an evening practice and died on Aug. 20 at Kalispell Regional Medical Center. He suffered several injuries including cardiac arrest and a resulting anoxic brain injury, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the district, as well as Corbett and Smith, allowed Bowman to participate without parental permission or proof he’d undergone a required physical exam. It also accuses the defendants of, among other things, deprivation of parental rights, failure to provide prompt and effective medical treatment, practicing in dangerous conditions, failing to implement and enforce employee training and school policies and causing the family emotional stress.

“The wrongful conduct includes the providing of false information to the public and the withholding of information from the public in an attempt to conceal the fault of the Defendants and shift blame to the victims,” the lawsuit says.

Following Bowman’s death, there were differing accounts from several witnesses at the football field that day as to how long it took members of the coaching staff to respond to the player after he collapsed, and to begin administering CPR. Elizabeth Kaleva, a Missoula attorney who specializes in school law, was hired by the Bigfork School District to investigate the circumstances surrounding Bowman’s death.

Kaleva made two conclusions in her report: the district allowed students to practice without MHSA-required physicals because they didn’t have an “adequate system” in place to determine who was eligible to practice; and the response of the coaches on the field was “appropriate under the circumstances.”

The Bowman family called the report “an insult to our late son, his family and the community” and criticized the report’s methodology and conclusions. “We believe that the report prepared by the school’s hand-picked attorney is a biased, misleading, and an incomplete charade,” they said in a written statement in October.

Bigfork School District Superintendent Russ Kinzer was not immediately available for comment. The district is represented by Missoula-based attorney Charles McNeil.