A college freshman’s family is suing Trinity International University over their son’s death from a severe allergic reaction at the school north of Chicago. Football player Avery Gilbert, who had a fish allergy, died August 10, 2022, after eating what he thought was a chicken meal from the campus dining hall.
The 18-year-old’s family is seeking answers and accountability in the wrongful death lawsuit filed February 10, 2023. Besides the college, the lawsuit also names the catering company Creative Dining Services as a defendant.
“The family wants to know how this happened. Clearly something happened that should never have happened,” attorney Matthew Sims told Allergic Living.
“It was supposed to be a safe place to come and to eat, and to not die. Something went wrong in that kitchen,” says Sims, an attorney for the family and a partner with the firm Rapoport Weisberg & Sims.
Three days after arriving on campus at Trinity College, which is part of Trinity International University, Avery sat down to eat lunch in the dining hall with his football teammates. He was eating a chicken meal from the dining hall section called the “Zone: An Allergen Sensitive Area,” the complaint states. A police photo of a menu screen shows the description of the meal as “grilled chicken, roasted potatoes and veggies.” Underneath is the line: “contains no allergens.”
According to a Bannockburn Police Department investigation report, “everyone thought they were eating chicken …. [They] then learned that apparently there was fish in the food along with the chicken.” The lawsuit says the meal was “cross-contaminated with fish proteins.”
“The allergen-free signs in the allergen-free zone created a false sense of security that proper precautions were being taken,” Sims says. “Tragically, Avery’s trust in the menu and kitchen staff cost him his life.”
Freshman’s Family: Wrongful Death Suit
When Avery started to feel strange during the meal, the legal complaint says he left to head to his dorm room. The complaint suggests this was to get medicine. Only partway to the dorm, the freshman soon called a friend to say his reaction was becoming severe. He then called 911, shortly before fellow students found him collapsed on the ground.
Within minutes, paramedics arrived to discover Avery unconscious, not breathing and in cardiac arrest. They administered CPR and advanced life support before transporting him to a hospital. He died at Highland Park Hospital after about an hour of CPR and a dozen rounds of medications, the lawsuit states.
Avery, who also had asthma, was found with an albuterol inhaler nearby, Sims said one of the
investigative reports indicates. Medical professionals administered several doses of epinephrine
to the teen, the attorney says. “We do not have any proof yet that he had ever been prescribed
an EpiPen,” Sims says.
The family’s decision to sue the university came after requests for the university’s full report from its investigation were ignored, Sims says. The university has not responded to Allergic Living’s request for comment on the lawsuit.
Sims says he hopes to get the case before a jury within 18 to 24 months. The complaint cites various negligent acts or omissions in its wrongful death claim, including:
• Mislabeled grilled chicken as containing “no allergens”.
• Preparation of dining hall food that allowed for cross-contact with allergens.
• Failing to provide “adequate and accurate warnings of foods containing food allergens.”
• Failing to properly train staff regarding cross-contact.
Football Player Was ‘All In’
Trinity International University President Nicholas Perrin, PhD, issued a statement to students and staff the day after Avery’s death. He described the freshman as someone “known for his infectious energy, generosity, and joy.” Perrin also noted that he learned from Avery’s family and football coach that, “Avery was ‘all in,’ ready to participate in community life and to be the best student and best wide receiver he could be.”
The 2022 football season was dedicated to Avery, a wide receiver who wore No. 87.
Now his family hopes the lawsuit will help to make sure that other families don’t have to suffer a tragedy like they’ve suffered, Sims says. Avery, who was from Lake Villa, Illinois, is survived by his parents, three brothers, and two sisters.
“Anyone who has a food allergy should be able to safely rely on professionals who label their menu as allergen free, not die because a menu was wrong,” Sims says.