Family of autistic student who choked on chicken nugget settles lawsuit.
A settlement has been approved by the Palm Beach County School Board in Florida, awarding the family of a 19-year-old student with autism, Kedar Williams, with $2 million after a year and a half. Willams’ choked on a chicken nugget and died. The school will also establish a mandatory training program named after Williams for all staff who work with special needs students.
On August 13, 2019, Williams was rushed to a hospital after the choking incident at William T. Dwyer High School. According to the medical examiner’s report, “Kedar arrived in Dwyer’s cafeteria shortly after 11 a.m. and was eating nuggets when he abruptly left the table and walked to a nearby window. The health aide called him back. As he was returning to the table, he appeared in distress …(he started gasping and he appeared to be choking. He collapsed to the floor, and the health aid called for help.” It continues, “Bystanders called 911, and, 10 minutes after Kedar hit the floor, at 11:29 a.m., paramedics from Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue were in the cafeteria.”
Williams’ autism caused him to be nonverbal and more susceptible to choking, according to his family. The school knew of his struggles and should have provided adequate support.
“I tried very hard to make sure he had a normal life,” Megan Williams explained. “You should be good with sending your child to school. They should be protected while in school. This is not something that should happen.” She said she trusted that an aide would be assigned to her son to ensure it didn’t.
Sia Baker-Barnes, attorney for his mother, Megan Williams, and the student’s estate, explained, “An aide was supposed to be assigned only to Williams. However, video footage of that day showed the aide was attending to another student. The attorney added, “His parents are pleased not only with the settlement, but they are most proud of the fact they fought for their son and fought for a training program designed to address the deficiencies that led to Kedar’s death.”
“Having your son wave goodbye to you in the morning, before school, and then never seeing him alive again is a mother’s worst nightmare. Our family has a gaping hole without Kedar in our lives,” Megan Williams added.
The boy’s father, Jeffrey Williams, is a teacher. His attorney, Salesia Smith-Gorden, said his position in a school, surrounded by students of his own daily, is a constant reminder of the tragedy. The attorney stated, “He’s around children every day, so this is a reminder of the loss he feels.”
“While no amount of money will ever take away the pain caused by this tragedy, the School District of Palm Beach County hopes that the settlement reached with the Williams family will help to ease the burden of this tremendous loss,” district spokesperson Claudia Shea responded.
In addition to a state-level suit, Williams’ family took the case to federal court, alleging a violation of federal protections for students with disabilities.