Outbreak of Legionnaires' disease claims 40 victims

Forty people (31 residents, eight visitors, one employee) were stricken with Legionnaires' Disease at a retirement home near Columbus, Ohio, during the summer of 2013. Seven people (all residents) died, according to WLWT.com.

Medical Background

Legionnaires' Disease, a type of pneumonia, is caused by specific bacteria. The infection occurs when someone breaths in water droplets contaminated by the bacteria. Common sources of the bacteria are Jacuzzis, shower heads, water faucets and cooling towers, which may use man-made water systems found in large buildings. Most people who are exposed to the bacteria don't become ill, but older people with weakened immune systems are at risk. The Ohio retirement home victims were from 63 to 99 years old.

In Ohio, the bacteria were found in the complex's cooling tower. After the outbreak, the retirement home tested its water and installed special filtering shower heads. It also planned to create long-term testing and maintenance plans.

The CEO of the home's parent company said, "I'm doing everything in my power to make sure we get rid of this bacteria and we keep it out of our system." She also said that the home had always met or exceeded water safety standards, according to WLWT.com

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that about 3,000 cases of Legionnaires' Disease are reported every year. The National Institutes of Health reports that most people who contact Legionnaires' Disease recover if they are treated.

Legal Concerns

In a noted lawsuit arising out of Legionnaires' Disease, filed against a hotel in Maryland in 2004, it was claimed that the hotel was negligent (that is, careless). The Restatement of Torts, 2nd Edition, states that the duty of a hotel is "to take reasonable action (a) to protect (guests) against unreasonable risk of physical harm, and (b) to give them first aid." Furthermore, "[t]he possessor's (hotel's) duty includes inspection of the premises to discover possible unknown defects." While a nursing or retirement home is not a "hotel," per se, it is certainly an entity which invites those from the outside to reside on its premises.

Damages awarded in these types of negligence cases typically include compensatory damages, for both medical bills and for pain and suffering. As for pain and suffering, when symptoms of the disease first appear, most victims say they feel they are dying. Later suffering may also occur during the convalescent period.

The awarding of punitive damages is also possible. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant (for example, hotel, nursing or retirement home) for "willful and wanton" behavior, which has to be shown by clear and convincing evidence. A possible example of such behavior is the failure to warn guests or residents of the presence of bacteria following a definitive finding of such bacteria after a water testing.

Conclusion

The occurrence of Legionnaires' Disease is an unfortunate, but common, scenario throughout the United States. Outbreaks frequently occur on cruise ships, malls, hospitals, nursing homes and hotels. If you or a relative are a resident at a retirement or nursing home and become ill, and you suspect that you have contacted Legionnaires' Disease, it is important to seek the counsel of an experienced lawyer immediately, so that he or she will begin a thorough examination of all aspects of the situation (medical and legal) to determine liability.