St. Louis Park School District, families reach settlement over fatal field trip

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 2, 2014 - 10:45 PM

Collapse during St. Paul field trip killed two pupils, injured others.

Haysem Sani Mohammed Fofana

The St. Louis Park School District has reached a settlement with the families of two boys who were killed and another who was injured in a 2013 landslide at Lilydale Regional Park.

The district’s communications manager, Sara Thompson, did not reveal the terms, conditions or sum of the settlement, saying that information is considered private student data protected by state law.

The district settled with the families of Mohamed Fofana, 10, and Haysem Sani, 9, who were killed, and Devin Meldahl, who was injured, said attorney John Goetz, who is representing the families. The settlement was reached within the past 10 days.

“I think it’s fair,” Goetz said Friday of the payout, which he also declined to divulge. “The families are satisfied. They’re happy to have legal matters behind them.”

The May 22 landslide also injured Lucas Lee, who sprained his ankle. Meldahl was buried waist-deep for 45 minutes before being rescued and was hospitalized with serious injuries.

The boys, all fourth-graders at Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park, were on a field trip at the park in St. Paul looking for fossils in a popular dig site when a waterlogged cliff collapsed on them.

“We’ve come to an amicable settlement,” Thompson said. “We think it’s in the best interest of all parties. We’re looking forward to moving forward.”

Thompson and District Attorney Michelle Kenney said the district’s settlement will not have to be approved by the school board or City Council.

With Goetz’s help, three of the families reached a record $1 million settlement with the city of St. Paul in March. Fofana’s and Sani’s families each received $400,000 in that settlement. Meldahl’s family received $200,000.

Lee’s family was not a party to the settlement, but later stepped forward to initiate conversations with the city. Goetz is representing Lee’s family in talks with the city and school district.

No lawsuits were filed to prompt any of the settlements, although the district and St. Paul were notified of potential litigation.

The school district settlement was reached without a formal mediator, Goetz said, adding that the families didn’t attend those negotiations, as they did during settlement talks with St. Paul.

“The families are grateful they didn’t have to go to court with either the city or the school district,” Goetz said. “They’re very happy to be done.”

Two reports commissioned by St. Paul after the accident concluded that the city couldn’t have predicted or prevented the landslide. The studies found that city staffers knew about erosion in the park but thought it a threat to the environment, not to visitors.

A 2009 city-commissioned report that was used as a guide to improve the park warned that evaluating erosion should be a “high” priority. But the city hadn’t acted on that before the landslide occurred, opting instead to first tackle other park projects, including extensive paving of roads, trails and parking lots.

The fossil grounds were closed after the accident and remain closed indefinitely.

 

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708

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