“Kedar Elijah Williams Exceptional Student Education Training Program” to be Implemented in Palm Beach County School System
$2 Million settlement reached in lawsuit regarding wrongful death of 19-year-old Kedar Williams
On August 13, 2019, 19-year-old student Kedar Elijah Williams was rushed to the hospital, by ambulance, from William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The school later released a statement that a student had passed away following a medical emergency.
Williams was autistic and was a student in the School District of Palm Beach County’s Exceptional Student Education (ESE) program. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a development disorder that affects how children interact and communicate. Kedar was only able to speak a few words and required 1:1 supervision, especially while eating, due to his risk for aspiration or choking on food. In addition to his care at school, he also had around-the-clock care at home. Due to his disability, his mother was instructed, by his doctors, that he eat only when accompanied by 1:1 supervision. His mother repeatedly communicated the importance of 1:1 supervision at all times to the school on multiple occasions, for years prior to this incident.
On August 13, 2019, the second day of the school year, the school, unbeknownst to Megan Williams, did not have a 1:1 paraprofessional to supervise Kedar. Instead of immediately communicating this to his mother, the school allowed Kedar to eat alone in the school cafeteria. Because no one was supervising him, he was permitted to ingest large chucks of chicken nuggets, causing him to aspirate and choke. Due to the school’s negligence, Kedar Williams was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, leaving his family devastated.
Attorney Sia Baker-Barnes, partner at the law firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, P.A., and Salesia V. Smith Gordon, of The Law Offices of Salesia V. Smith-Gordon, P.A., represented the family. Because the attorneys alleged both state wrongful death claims and federal civil rights violations, they successfully negotiated a significant $2 million settlement, well beyond the statutory caps on damages and without the need for the legislature to pass a special claims bill. As a condition of the settlement, the School Board has agreed to develop a mandatory training program for principals, employees and ESE staff, to be forever named the “Kedar Elijah Williams Exceptional Student Education Training Program.” The training program, which will start at the beginning of the 2021/22 school year, will include certain portions of the surveillance video of the incident that depicts the actions and/or omissions of the School Board employees, which subsequently resulted in Williams’s death, will require the school to notify parents if there is an insufficient number of paraprofessionals and will require training at all schools designed to educate employees on the significance of taking the needs of ESE students seriously, and what can happen if they do not. Megan Williams, Kedar’s mother, stated, “I will forever be heartbroken over the death of my beloved son, who I loved and nurtured for his whole life. Kedar brought light into our lives. With the implementation of this program, Kedar did not die in vain. My hope is that this training program ensures that this nightmare will never happen again to anyone’s child, and I take comfort in knowing that Kedar’s legacy will forever be preserved.”
“I am extremely proud of the battle we fought to demand accountability for Kedar’s preventable death. While we are pleased with the settlement, this case is about so much more than the money. Megan Williams appreciates that the School Board has accepted responsibility for this horrible incident. She especially takes comfort in knowing that Kedar’s name and legacy will forever live on through the training program, and that she fought to ensure that this never happens again.”
-Sia Baker-Barnes, Attorney at Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley, P.A. (Counsel to Megan Williams)
“We demanded answers and accountability from the School District of Palm Beach County for Kedar’s death and the loss of companionship. We received both. Jeffrey Williams lost his first-born and only son. Kedar died while entrusted in the school’s care. Its acceptance of responsibility for Kedar’s death is an impetus for change regarding better preventive education and training for autistic and exceptional students.”
-Salesia V. Smith-Gordon, Attorney at the Law Offices of Salesia V. Smith-Gordon (Counsel to Jeffery Williams)
The loss of my son hurts like nothing I can describe. Although the school board has accepted responsibility and agreed to implement better training, it will never bring my son back. My son must be remembered. We must not allow autism to be silenced.”
-Jeffrey Williams (father of Kedar Williams)
Attorney Sia Baker-Barnes, partner at Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, is representing Megan Williams, mother of Kedar Williams, and the Estate of Kedar Williams. Attorney Salesia V. Smith-Gordon of the Law Offices of Salesia V. Smith-Gordon is representing Jeffrey Williams, father of Kedar Williams.