Bigfork School Settles Football Player Death Lawsuit

By Beacon Staff

The Bigfork School District has reached an agreement to settle a lawsuit filed by the parents of a 17-year-old boy who died two years ago after collapsing during the first day of football practice.

Superintendent Russ Kinzer said the district’s insurance company and Bob and Troy Bowman reached a tentative agreement on Aug. 24 for an undisclosed amount. Kinzer said the formal documents have not been drawn up.

Denver attorney Dan Caplis, who represented the Bowmans, would not comment Wednesday on any recent developments, but said the couple would issue a statement soon.

“They made a promise to the community that they were going to bring a lawsuit to get to the truth,” Caplis said. “They are going to be issuing their own full report, complete with deposition testimony and documents and irrefutable evidence.”

The Bowmans’ son, Jeff, collapsed and went into cardiac arrest while running laps on Aug. 13, 2007. He died a week later. The family has not released his cause of death.

The Bowmans filed a lawsuit in August 2008 alleging football practice should not have been held on the hot, smoky day, that coaches did not quickly respond when their son collapsed and that the school’s defibrillator was not immediately available at the football field.

“Top doctors have told us … that it was football practice that caused Jeff to collapse, and that Jeff would have been saved by the school’s defibrillator,” the Bowmans said in a statement at the time they filed the lawsuit.

Jeff Bowman did not turn in a required sports physical exam form before practice began, and the lawsuit also accused the school of letting Jeff Bowman practice without his parents’ consent.

The school’s investigation, carried out by school law attorney Elizabeth Kaleva of Missoula, determined that the school did not have an adequate system in place to keep track of which students had turned in physical forms, but said the coaches responded appropriately by starting CPR after Bowman collapsed.

The investigation did not address whether practice should have been held given the temperature and smoke in the air from nearby wildfires.

“The decision by the school and its hand-picked attorney not to include that issue in the report is an admission of guilt,” Bob and Troy Bowman charged in October 2007. “They knew at the time and they know now that they should not have practiced our children in that dangerous air and heat.”

The Montana High School Association fined Bigfork High $50 and reprimanded the school for allowing Bowman to practice without turning in proof he’d undergone a physical exam required for participation.