• Lawsuit against Whitewater Center filed year after teen's death from brain-eating amoeba

    By: Mark Barber

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Lauren Seitz died from a brain-eating amoeba after a rafting trip at the Whitewater Center in June 2016.

    The attorneys for her family said they waited to file an 18-page lawsuit until the anniversary of her death to remind the Whitewater Center they haven't forgotten what happened.

    The lawsuit against the U.S. National Whitewater Center was filed Monday, just over a year after Seitz, 18, from Ohio, contracted a brain-eating amoeba at the facility.

    Seitz died on June 19, 2016, as a result of the deadly amoeba Naegleria fowleri after visiting the center on June 8, officials said. She was with her church group and fell off a raft into the water.

    Channel 9 talked to criminal defense attorney James Wyatt about the key document that will decide if the case will ever be heard by a jury.

    "One of the big issues in this case will be whether a release was signed," Wyatt said. 

    [DOCUMENT: Lawsuit against Whitewater Center]

    (Lauren Seitz)

    The lawsuit that was filed by her father, James Seitz, alleges the Whitewater Center “negligently breached its duty of care owed to Lauren” and failed to properly regulate the water, train its employees on how to care for the water and didn’t warn visitors about dangers that come with untreated and unregulated water.


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    Wyatt said that if Seitz signed a thorough waiver before her rafting trip, a judge could find grounds to throw out the case.

    "With a waiver, generally a judge will interpret the terms of the waiver and determine whether it bars the lawsuit," Wyatt said.  

    Right now, the center makes visitors sign a release that waives their ability to sue for any injuries.

    The center lists some of the potential risks as "...water-borne pathogens, organisms and other contaminates."

    Channel 9 asked the Whitewater Center if they changed the wording of their waiver after Seitz died, but they responded by saying they don't discuss court cases.

    Channel 9 asked the family's attorney if she signed a waiver. They said if defense attorneys raise the issue they will address it in court.

    If a judge allows the case to move forward, the prosecution will have to prove negligence that the Whitewater Center caused Lauren's death. 

    "They're going to try to show a reasonable company would have taken different steps here," Wyatt said.

    In the next few months, the prosecution will start interviewing witnesses to figure out what they know. 

    If they think they discover more people are responsible for Lauren's death, there could be even more court action.

    "If through depositions or documents they obtain, they think they can establish liability to another entity, whether it's the county or some other company, it's always possible they could move to add those parties to this case," Wyatt said.

    The Seitz family is asking for at least $1 million in damages in the lawsuit, but that amount could change if the case makes it to trial.

    Here's how the lawsuit claims the Whitewater Center failed to protect visitors:

    The suit said the park failed to properly chlorinate its water, regulate its water temperature and train employees on how to care for the water.

    The suit goes on to say the center failed to warn visitors about the dangers of unregulated water and failed to provide nose plugs.

    All 11 water samples collected by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services tested positive for the rare amoeba, which can infect someone when it goes up the nose.

    After Seitz's death, the park closed and crews cleaned the whitewater feature.

    The facility then changed its filtration and disinfection systems.

    The Whitewater Center later reopened.

    Now, Mecklenburg County helps to oversee the regulation of the Whitewater Center, including required inspections and an annual permit from the county health department.

    [LINK: Naegleria fowleri fact sheet]

    (What to know: Brain-eating amoeba)

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