Parents of Child Who Died From ‘Brain-Eating Amoeba' in Texas Splash Pad Sue City

The city of Arlington public splash pads Photo Source: City of Arlington public splash pad. (AP Photo/LM Otero via The New York Post)

A family in Arlington, Texas, is suing the city for negligence after their three-year-old toddler died as a result of a brain-eating amoeba he encountered at a community splash pad.

Tariq Williams and Kayla Mitchell filed the lawsuit after their son Bakari Williams died on September 11th days after he visited the Don Misenhimer Park splash pad. His death was the cause of a rare yet typically fatal infection brought on by the Naegleria fowleri amoeba. The family is seeking $1,000,000 in damages.

Bakari’s parents shared during a public press conference that after visiting the splash pad, their son spiked a fever of 102 and was lethargic. Bakari’s mom explained that she knew something was wrong when her usually active and energetic son did not have the energy to move, eat, or drink. After he was hospitalized, he was diagnosed with a primary amebic meningoencephalitis infection brought on by the amoeba. The Naegleria fowleri amoeba is typically found in warm freshwater ponds, lakes, and rivers. However, due to lack of maintenance, the amoeba was able to live undetected in the splash pad.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested the water at the splash pad facility and found the live amoeba in water samples that they had collected. City officials also shared that a review of splash pad maintenance records revealed gaps in daily inspection processes. CDC testing showed that the day after the toddler visited the splash pad, chlorine levels were measured and found to be below the minimum standard.

The lawsuit alleges that city employees "failed to adequately monitor and chlorinate the city's splash pad water, making the splash pad unreasonably dangerous." The family's attorney, Steven Stewart, shared in the press conference that "A little more chlorine and this child would be here today."

T Nguyen, a personal injury attorney at the Dallas-based Turley Law Firm who is not involved in the suit, explains how damages are typically measured in a lawsuit like this. “Damages are assessed for the child’s pain and suffering, mental anguish, impairment, disfigurement, and medical costs before death,” says Nguyen, “along with funeral and burial expenses, and the parents’ mental anguish for the loss of love and companionship in the past and future by their toddler’s death.” Nguyen goes on to note that under current Texas law, there is a limitation of money damages against a city with a maximum amount of $250,000 for each person and $500,000 for a single occurrence.

Under current Texas law, there is a limitation of money damages against a city with a maximum amount of $250,000 for each person and $500,000 for a single occurrence.
— T Nguyen, Personal Injury Attorney

Cases of infection by N. fowleri are extremely rare. Between 2010 and 2019, only 34 cases were reported in the US. An individual is infected when the amoeba enters the body through the nose. Once it enters the nose, it latches onto the olfactory nerve where it travels to the brain. The amoeba acts quickly in destroying brain tissue, causing the brain to swell. Once a victim spikes a fever or shows signs of hallucinations and seizures, it is often too late. It is estimated that the fatality rate is roughly 97%. According to the CDC, there have only ever been five documented survivors of the amoeba, three in the U.S. and five worldwide.

“On behalf of our family and our friends we just want you to know that Bakari was a loving, energetic, passionate, sweet, beautiful, innocent boy,” Williams shared with the public. “He didn’t deserve to die in this manner.”

Although city officials have not responded to the lawsuit, the city's mayor Jim Ross shared with local news outlets that he takes full responsibility. Ross explains, “Part of our job as city leaders is to protect our citizens, and we failed, we absolutely failed.”

If the mayor’s public statement is used as an admission or stipulation of liability by the City of Arlington, attorney Nguyen comments that nothing more needs to be shown to confer liability against the City. “Otherwise,” Nguyen says, “it must be shown that the City of Arlington failed to exercise the degree of ordinary care by an owner or operator to either warn of the danger or to make the condition of the water reasonably safe.” This could take litigation and a trial if the City decides to dispute its liability or the damages owed.

Given the facts of the case as reported and the mayor’s public admission, it seems likely the case could rapidly settle for a significant amount. Hopefully, such a result will bring some measure of comfort and support to the family and help prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate at James Madison University where she studied English and Education. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and two little girls. Although she considers herself a workaholic, when she’s not juggling work, you can be sure to find her traveling the world with her little family.