Family of Minnesota boy who died from infection after swimming plans to sue city, county, stateThe family of Jack Ariola Erenberg, the 9-year-old boy who died in August after swimming in Lily Lake in Stillwater, plans to sue the city, Washington County and the state for $1.5 million.
By: Mary Divine, St. Paul Pioneer Press / MCT
ST. PAUL — The family of Jack Ariola Erenberg, the 9-year-old boy who died in August after swimming in Lily Lake in Stillwater, plans to sue the city, Washington County and the state for $1.5 million.
Jim Ariola of Wyoming, Minn., Jack's father, has hired an attorney from Scottsdale, Ariz., who specializes in wrongful-death lawsuits involving children who have died from the same rare, water-borne disease.
The attorney, Roger Strassburg, said Thursday, Dec. 13, that the wrongful-death lawsuit against the city, county and state will be filed soon in Washington County District Court. A hearing in the case will be held Friday.
As part of their claim, the family wants the city to post signs on all swimming facilities like Lily Lake warning of the hazard presented by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri -- which caused Jack's death -- and including a statement that the bodies of water are not chlorinated.
"I don't think that is too much to ask the city to do," Strassburg said. "They should have done it already."
Jack died Aug. 6 as a result of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. Jack went swimming in Lily Lake with his two sisters sometime the week before he died. The city closed the lake to swimmers the day after his death.
Jack was the second child in Stillwater to contract the rare form of meningitis after swimming in Lily Lake. The other death -- and the only other ever recorded in Minnesota -- happened two years ago.
Annie Bahneman, 7, was confirmed to have died of the infection after taking a late-summer swim in Lily Lake. The Naegleria fowleri amoeba is found in warm freshwater and can travel through swimmers' noses to their brains.
"It's very tragic," Strassburg said. "I've never seen a case where you had two deaths, one right after the other."
Strassburg has represented four other high-profile cases of children who have died as a result of Naegleria fowleri in a water system, including two cases in Phoenix in 2002 and two cases in Tulsa, Okla., in 2005.
"All (Stillwater) had to do was post appropriate warnings that the route of transmission for the amoeba is nasal," he said. "It goes up the nose, so if you wear a mask that covers the nose or nose plugs or you don't put your head in the water or you don't go in the water ... Those are the appropriate protective measures. The city did not post warnings at the beach where people could see them."
Mayor Ken Harycki said the city has turned the notice of claim over to its attorneys at the League of Minnesota Cities. He questioned, however, how the city could be held accountable.
"It's like trying to sue somebody for getting a cold," he said. "It's tragic, but it's a natural thing."
Whether the Lily Lake beach will reopen in 2013 has yet to be decided. City, county and state officials are trying to set up a meeting with people from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before they make that decision, Harycki said.
"We need that guidance from CDC as whether to open the beach and whether to post signs," he said. "We hope to set up a meeting with them this spring."