The family of an Ohio woman who died after contracting a brain-eating amoeba has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a North Carolina outdoor recreational park.

Lauren Seitz was on an eight-day trip with her Westville youth music ministry group singing at churches and nursing homes around Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina, when they decided to go on a whitewater rafting experience in North Carolina that would prove deadly.

Seitz graduated from Westerville South High School one month before she died. Photo / Facebook
Seitz graduated from Westerville South High School one month before she died. Photo / Facebook

Colin Evans told WBNS he shared a raft with Seitz that day at the US National Whitewater Centre, an outdoor recreational park in Charlotte that features a man-made whitewater river ride.

"We went around three times. Everybody fell out. It was fun. We both fell out at the same spot both times. We helped each other back in."

Advertisement

But Seitz contracted a deadly infection.

Days after returning home, Seitz developed a headache and congestion, according to an North Carolina Health and Human Services investigation. She was admitted to the hospital with suspected meningitis.

On June 19, the 18-year-old was dead.

Two days later, officials say, the Centrrs for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the presence of Naegleria fowleri, commonly referred to as a "brain-eating amoeba".

A year after her death, Seitz's father has filed a lawsuit against the US National Whitewater Centre, claiming negligence and asking for US$1 million ($1.38m) in punitive damages.

A spokesman for the nonprofit organisation that owns and operates the park said it does not publicly discuss matters related to litigation. The co-defendant named in the suit, Recreation Engineering and Planning, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Washington Post's Elahe Izadi wrote that Naegleria fowleri "resides in warm freshwater, hot springs and poorly maintained swimming pools".

Lauren Seitz went on a whitewater rafting trip with her church group. The raft overturned, and the 18-year-old died just over a week later from Naegleria fowleri. Photo / Getty Images
Lauren Seitz went on a whitewater rafting trip with her church group. The raft overturned, and the 18-year-old died just over a week later from Naegleria fowleri. Photo / Getty Images

Infection can occur when it enters the body through the nose. Of the 140 people known to have been infected in the United States from 1962 to 2016, four people have died, according the CDC.

Advertisement

Seitz's lawsuit claims that the park failed to properly chlorinate the water, to train its employees to eliminate or reduce the dangers of Naegleria fowleri, and to warn visitors.

A park employee also complained about dead animals and trash in the water, while saying raft guides often got staph infections and ringworm, according to the Daily Mail.

James Seitz did not respond to a message for comment sent on Facebook. The plaintiff's lawyer said that the defendants have yet to respond to the suit.

The North Carolina Health and Human Services's investigation found that the amoeba was "present throughout the white-water feature".

After Seitz's death, the US National Whitewater Centre temporarily closed its white-water facilities. According to CBS News, the centre's website said at the time that "the fast-water channels would be drained, dried and scrubbed to kill any vestiges of the amoeba".

The Whitewater Centre now has to be inspected and obtain an annual permit from the county health department, WSOC-TV reported.

Criminal defence attorney James Wyatt told news outlet WSOC-TV that an issue will be whether Lauren Seitz signed a release document.

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

Speaking to ThisWeek Community News last year after his daughter's death, James Seitz said she "believed in the power of music and the arts to inspire all of us to take better care of the Earth and each other".

The family started a memorial music fund in the teen's honour.

- additional reporting by Daily Mail