ADVERTISEMENT

Fourth student seeking legal recourse in Lilydale park landslide

  • Article by: Chao Xiong
  • Star Tribune
  • March 28, 2014 - 6:25 PM

The family of a boy injured in last year’s landslide at Lilydale Regional Park that killed two of his classmates and injured another has hired an attorney and is initiating talks with the city of St. Paul.

Lucas Lee sprained his ankle in the May 22 landslide but was not party to a $1 million settlement approved by the St. Paul City Council on March 12 between his classmates’ families and the city. Lee’s family came forward after news of the settlement, the most the city has ever paid out, became public. They retained John Goetz, who represented the other families.

Goetz said Friday that no suit has been filed, but that he has informed the city that Lee’s family is seeking legal recourse. No suit was ever filed by the other families, although attorneys alerted the city that they were prepared to take such action if necessary.

“We are optimistic that we and the city can reach a settlement,” Goetz said of the Lee case.

Mohamed Fofana, 10, and Haysem Sani, 9, were killed in the accident. Devin Meldahl was injured and continues to suffer psychological trauma. The boys, all fourth-graders at Peter Hobart Elementary School in St. Louis Park, were on a school field trip looking for fossils in a popular dig site when a waterlogged cliff collapsed on them.

Fofana and Sani’s families each received $400,000 in the settlement. Meldahl’s family received $200,000.

Minnesota law caps the amount plaintiffs can recover from municipalities in such cases at $1.5 million, meaning that there’s $500,000 left for future payouts in the Lilydale landslide. It’s unclear how much Lee’s family will seek. His physical injuries were not as serious as Meldahl’s. It took crews 45 minutes to free Meldahl, who was buried waist-deep and hospitalized for serious injuries.

Goetz said Lee will undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether the landslide had a lasting impact on him.

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

Two independent investigations commissioned last year by the city concluded that the city couldn’t have predicted or prevented the landslide. The studies found that city staff were aware of soil erosion in the park but thought it was a threat to the environment rather than to visitors.

A 2009 city-commissioned report used as a guide in improving the park warned that evaluating erosion should be a “high” priority. But the city hadn’t acted on that before the landslide occurred.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708

Twitter: @ChaoStrib

© 2014 Star Tribune