CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The U.S. National Whitewater Center and Colorado-based Recreation Engineering and Planning responded Friday to a lawsuit filed after an Ohio teenager died from a brain-eating amoeba during a visit to the NC center in 2016.
The suit was initially filed in June 2017 on the one-year anniversary of 18-year-old Lauren Seitz's death. It alleges the park's popular rafting channels were dangerous and that park operators showed "conscious disregard for the safety of visitors."
The Whitewater Center's response requests the court "Dismiss the Complaint and all claims for relief with prejudice," "Deny all relief sought by Plaintiff against Whitewater Center," "Award Whitewater Center its costs and reasonable attorneys' fees as allowed by law," and to have a jury trial for "all issues of fact."
Seitz, 18, died of a rare brain infection caused by a single-celled animal, the amoeba Naegleria fowleri, days after visiting the center on June 8, 2016, with a church group. She was in a raft that overturned.
The amoeba can infect a person when water goes up the nose and infections are rare, but almost always fatal.
Under pressure, the park shut down the water feature for nearly two months and a federal epidemiologist found that filtration and disinfection systems were inadequate to properly clean the facility's turbid waters.
Water samples from the park detected the presence of an amoeba at levels the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had not previously seen.
In response to those concerns, the park changed its filtration and disinfection system.
The suit also names Colorado-based Recreation Engineering and Planning as a defendant.
At the time of the teen's death, the center was the only one of only three similar facilities in the U.S. that wasn't regulated to protect the public from waterborne diseases.
The suit appears to take aim at one of the primary points of contention following Seitz's death. Whitewater officials repeatedly defended themselves by saying that the amoeba is common in warm freshwater lakes and other bodies of water during the summer, particularly in the southern United States.
But attorneys for teen's father cite a state review that concludes the "combination of high levels of N. fowleri and likelihood of submersion and exposure to high-velocity water results in a risk of infection that is likely higher than the risk of infection from exposure to N. fowleri in the natural environment."
On Jan. 26, 2018, the case was transferred to the Western District of North Carolina to be heard. The case was assigned to Chief Judge Frank D. Whitney and Magistrate Judge David S. Cayer.