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City of Moorhead, DNR Named in Wrongful Death Suit Over 9-Year-Old Girl’s Drowning


— August 30, 2019

A wrongful death lawsuit was recently filed against the city of Moorhead and others after the tragic drowning of a 9-year-old girl.


The city of Moorhead, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the Moorhead Police Department were all recently hit with a wrongful death lawsuit. The suit, which was filed by the family of 9-year-o;d Grace Bettie, alleges the defendants were negligent and responsible for Grace’s death when she “drowned in a pool during a youth program at a state park.

Image of a drowning warning sign
Drowning warning sign; image courtesy of
OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay, www.pixabay.com

The suit was filed in Clay County District Court last week and is seeking more than $50,000 in damages. It alleges Grace was one of almost 180 children visiting the Buffalo River State Park in Minnesota “as part of the Moorhead Police Summer Youth Program.” During the visit, the children took a dip in a swimming pool. However, it quickly became overcrowded and Grace drowned.

As a result of the incident, Grace’s family argues the defendants were negligent and failed to offer proper supervision and safety procedures around the pool. It alleges the Moorhead police in particular “assumed responsibility for supervising Bettie and to ensure her safety and otherwise protect her from reasonably foreseeable dangerous conduct and to warn her as to such reasonably foreseeable dangerous conditions and conduct during program activities.”

For starters, the suit alleges the dangers posed by the pond where Grace and the other swimmers were swimming were not properly communicated. For example, the suit claims the pond “had issues with a lack of clarity of the water and the varying depths that included a sudden drop-off in the pond.” Additionally, the suit alleges the defendants knew Grace “did not know how to swim and that there were no chaperones or supervisors assigned specifically to monitor those who could not swim.” It further states, “the defendants failed to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the danger or otherwise protect Grace.”

To make matters worse, court documents claim that both officers and members of the DNR failed to offer “life jackets to program participants and that program leaders discouraged parents from furnishing life jackets.” Additionally, there was allegedly a delay between the time Grace went under to the time a search of the pond was conducted. In fact, witnesses said it was about “11 minutes from when a chaperone was notified about Bettie having gone underwater to when a search of the pond began.”

When commenting on the incident, Kenneth Bayliss, an attorney for the city of Moorhead, said, “It’s a tragic case and it’s certainly a great loss, but we don’t think the city has any liability in this case.”

A spokesperson for the DNR, Julie Foster, acknowledged the agency had received the lawsuit and was busy “reviewing the complaint.”

Sources:

Girl’s drowning leads to wrongful death suit against Moorhead, DNR

Family of girl who drowned to file lawsuit against city of Moorhead, police department, Minnesota DNR

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