City of Stillwater Loses Appeal in Lily Lake Wrongful Death Suit

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has reversed a Washington County District Court judge’s dismissal in Jack Ariola Erenberg’s wrongful death case against the city of Stillwater.

Two years ago, Jack Ariola Erenberg, 9, died of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis caused by an infection from the parasite Naegleria fowleri after swimming in Lily Lake.

The swimming beach at Lily Lake has been closed ever since.

James Ariola filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Stillwater, Washington County and the Minnesota Department of Health, saying that because Annie Bahneman died of the same brain infection after swimming in Lily Lake two years prior to his son’s death, the city should have posted warnings disclosing the potential danger.

Judge Susan Miles dismissed the lawsuit in December 2013 on the basis of “recreational-use immunity.”

On Monday, court of appeals court affirmed Judge Miles’ decision to dismiss the wrongful death claim against the Minnesota Department of Health and Washington County.

But the appellate court reversed Miles’ decision to dismiss the wrongful death claim against the city of Stillwater.

That means the wrongful death lawsuit against the city will go back to Washington County District Court.

When the swimming area at Lily Lake was built, “the city allegedly altered the lake bottom to create a shallow area of water,” the appellate court’s ruling reads. “The shallow area results in especially warm water that is uniquely favorable for the proliferation of Naegleria fowleri.”

Ariola’s attorney argues that the city created and maintained conditions at Lily Lake that caused “a trap or concealment in the form of Naegleria fowleri.”

“The city asserts — and the district court concluded — that Jack’s death was not caused by the improvements to Lily Lake, but rather by the Naegleria fowleri,” the ruling reads.

The court of appeals ruled that Ariola’s attorney sufficiently pleaded a “concealed-danger case.”

Causation is an issue of fact, in which a jury should resolve the issue, the ruling reads.

“It may be that (Ariola) ultimately will be unable to prevail at summary judgment or trial,” the ruling reads. “We express no opinion regarding the viability of (Ariola’s) claims against the city under a summary-judgment standard. We simply conclude that it is premature at this juncture to dismiss these claims.”

Court of Appeals Unpublished Opinion for Jack Ariola Erenberg

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