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Lawsuit claims Tanganyika Wildlife Park’s negligence led to outbreak

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 6:15 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Wichita’s Patterson Legal Group confirmed it has picked up a lawsuit against Tanganyika Wildlife Park in connection with a possible link to illnesses to visitors of Tanganyika’s splash park.

“Many children and adults were unknowingly exposed to a pathogen and have suffered violent periods of illness,” said Coleman Younger, one of two attorneys representing those who were infected

The lawsuit accuses Tanganyika of” failing to maintain proper sanitary conditions and not warning guests once they knew, or should have known about the outbreak.” The lawsuit claims the outbreak could have been caused by fecal matter in the water.

On Wednesday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Sedgwick County Health Department reported that three cases initially identified as being linked to the park tested positive for Shigella, a bacteria spread from person-to-person through exposure to contaminated feces.

“Shigella spreads easily; just a small number of bacteria can spread illness,” the KDHE said. “Someone can become infected with Shigella through swallowing contaminated recreational water, touching items that are contaminated and touching your mouth, or caring for someone who has Shigella, including cleaning up after the person uses the bathroom or changing diapers.”

The splash park is temporarily closed as the health department and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment investigate the cases if illness.

“It’s a very scary situation for all involved, especially the children who fell seriously ill,” Younger said in a release from Patterson Legal Group. “Businesses have a responsibility to the public to ensure that splash parks are operated in a safe manner to ensure situations like this do not happen.”

The lawsuit said plaintiffs visited the splash park this month (June 2021) and “shortly after the trip to Tanganyika Wildlife Park (TWP), “became violently ill and suffered negligence and/or carelessness of the defendants (Tanganyika).”

The lawsuit said symptoms were so severe that a plaintiff “was hospitalized as a direct result of their illness.”

Of the cases reported, symptoms include high fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

In filing the lawsuit, Patterson Legal group claims, “a dangerous pathogen may have been in the water that caused serious illness to children and adults at the splash park.”

Younger said “there could have been multiple pathogens that were in the water.”

”As a direct and proximate result of defendant TWP’s negligent acts and omissions as set out herein, and/or the negligent acts and omissions of TWP’s agents and employees, the Plaintiffs suffered medical bills, physical injury, pain, suffering and disability, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life in an amount exceeding the jurisdictional minimum of this court.,” the lawsuit says.

In response to the lawsuit, Tanganyika Wildlife Park Director Matt Fouts issued a brief statement in response to the findings from the KDHE and Sedgwick County Health Department.

“I’m glad the county and KDHE were able to confirm the bacteria that connected the three cases.  Not knowing what is wrong is sometimes more stressful and scary,” Fouts said. “It has been one of the most frequently asked questions we have received and we weren’t able to provide an answer.  Now those that are sick can consult with their doctors to see if that is what is affecting them and get the proper treatment.”

The city of Goddard is not involved in legal action, but is taking proactive measures to assure that visitors to the city’s splash pad are safe.

Although the city of Goddard and Tanganyika Wildlife Park have separate splash pads, city leaders say both splash pads draw water from the same supply. For precaution, the city wants to take extra measures.

After the Kansas Department of Health and Environment launched an investigation into Tanganyika’s splash park, the city of Goddard is calling for additional testing on the water supply that feeds the city’s splash pad. That call for extra testing is solely out of precaution, city leaders say.

Goddard City Councilman Larry Zimmerman says Tanganyika uses a private water supply through an underground well. but it also uses some of Goddard’s water.

Goddard Public Works Director Brooke Brandenburg said the water that is used at Goddard’s splash pad is required to meet drinking standards and there should not be cause for concern with the city’s splash pad.

“We send biweekly tests to a third party lab. They test for heavy metals, viruses, bacteria, those kinds of things,” Brandenburg said. “They will report that directly to KDHE, and they do daily tests on our water as well. We don’t do anything specifically for our Splash Pad, but we make sure our drinking water is high quality. And like I said, it’s the same thing.”

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