MOORHEAD — The family of a Moorhead girl who drowned in a pool during a youth program at a state park has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Moorhead, the Moorhead Police Department and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, alleging negligence and liability in the child’s death.
Grace Bettie, 9, was one of nearly 180 children who were at the Buffalo River State Park near Glyndon, Minn., as part of the Moorhead police Summer Youth Program when she drowned in a crowded swimming pool on June 27, 2018.
The lawsuit filed in Clay County District Court on Wednesday, Aug. 21, seeks more than $50,000 in damages.
Bettie’s family is alleging negligence and willful and wanton liability on the part of the city of Moorhead, Moorhead police and the DNR , citing a failure of proper supervision and safety procedures.
The lawsuit claims Moorhead police 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.”
The dangers cited by the lawsuit include the fact that the pond where the children swam had issues with a lack of clarity of the water and the varying depths that included a sudden drop-off in the pond.
The lawsuit also claims that the defendants were aware that Bettie did not know how to swim and that there were no chaperones or supervisors assigned specifically to monitor those who could not swim.
“The defendants, and each of them, failed to exercise reasonable care to eliminate the danger or otherwise protect Grace,” the lawsuit said.
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In addition, the lawsuit alleges the DNR and the police failed to implement a safety program or evaluate the swimming skill level of participants in the program.
The documents show neither the police nor the DNR offered life jackets to program participants and that program leaders discouraged parents from furnishing life jackets.
The lawsuit further claims the defendants failed to immediately assist Bettie, alleging that it was about 11 minutes from when a chaperone was notified about Bettie having gone under water to when a search of the pond began.
“Defendants negligently left Grace unsupervised near the deep end of the pool,” court papers said.
The defendants have about 20 days to file a response to the lawsuit.
“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,” said Kenneth Bayliss, an attorney for the city of Moorhead.
Julie Forster, a DNR spokesperson, said the DNR has been served with the lawsuit and is currently reviewing the complaint.