Legionnaires’ Disease Claims and Compensation
Over the last several decades, outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease have been traced to building water systems, hot water heaters, indoor spas and pools, fountains and humidifiers, and ventilation and cooling systems, among other structures and locations. The owners and managers of any building or property (or cruise ship) where an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease has been determined to occur, including those responsible for the development, design, engineering, construction, manufacture, installation, maintenance, and/or repair of building systems identified as the source of an outbreak, face potential legal liability and claims against them from victims of the disease. In the past, this has included persons and corporations involved with the ownership, operation, management, and maintenance of hotels, hospitals, senior housing facilities, cruise ships, nursing homes, shopping malls, and condominiums.
Since the death rate of a single outbreak of the disease can be between 20 and 40 percent, and a single source of exposure can infect dozens, or even hundreds of people, the potential exposure of a liable party can be substantial. Reported settlements and jury awards have ranged from $225,000 to $5.2 million. These large awards are meant to compensate survivors of deceased victims, as well as reimburse sufferers of the disease for their pain and suffering. Legionnaires’ disease lawsuit settlements also include amounts for medical expenses, lost wages, disability and any other lawful damages. The awarding of punitive damages due to gross negligence may also add to the exposure of liable parties.
Proving a Claim in a Lawsuit
In order to craft a successful case or lawsuit against a person or company alleged to be responsible for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, the claimant must prove the following:
- That he or she was exposed to the Legionella bacteria that causes disease
- That the exposure occurred at the premises named in the suit
- That the exposure was due to negligence on the part of the owner or operator of the premises name in the suit
- That the exposure resulted in a confirmed diagnosis of Legionnaires’ disease
Legionnaires’ disease lawsuit settlements, verdicts and compensation are generally based on several factors, including:
- Whether or not the victim survives. Survivors of deceased victims can file a wrongful death claim
- Whether or not the liable party is insured against such claims and other financial considerations
- The severity of the disease and whether or not there are permanent complications involving the future health of the victim
- The age and occupation of the victim and the potential loss of current and future income due to current and ongoing health issues
Naturally, in order to pursue a claim, a victim will need to obtain the services of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney. Your legal representative will be responsible for:
- Investigating the scene of the exposure
- Interviewing witnesses and other disease victims
- Securing the reports of the local health department and/or representatives the state and federal agencies who made the epidemiologic investigation
- Obtaining all relevant medical reports
- Estimating the value of your personal injury
- Negotiating with the liable party’s insurance company
- Representing you in a court of law, where necessary
- Engaging qualified experts to provide opinions and testimony in the claim
Recent Legionnaires’ Disease Lawsuit Cases
In November 2010, a Calhoun County, Alabama, a jury awarded a combined $4.5 million judgment in a case stemming from a hotel hot tub contaminated with Legionella bacteria. Two hotel guests were staying at the Wingate Inn and both of them developed Legionnaires’ disease and had to be hospitalized. The trial lasted four days and the jury took only 50 minutes to return a guilty verdict against DEVI, LLC, the owner of the hotel.
Parents of a child who died from Legionnaires’ disease filed a lawsuit against the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. The child was at the hospital for a month in early 2013, after a transplant. Tests performed after the baby’s death found Legionella bacteria in the plumbing system of the hospital, including the room where the baby had been staying.
A $3 million settlement was obtained, recently, for the family of a woman who died after contracting Legionnaires’ disease at a Las Vegas Hotel. The victim was celebrating her 40th wedding anniversary with her husband and inhaled the Legionella bacteria while using the hotel suite’s Jacuzzi. Lawyers for the victim’s family were able to prove that the hotel knew that the bacteria was present in the building’s water system months prior to the victim’s stay.
In November 2012, a wrongful-death lawsuit was filed against Marriott International, claiming that one of its hotels in downtown Chicago was responsible for infecting Thomas Keane, an Irish tourist, with Legionnaires’ disease. Legionella bacteria were found in a decorative fountain of the main lobby and Keane, who was visiting Chicago with his wife, inhaled vapor from the fountain. The lawsuit charged that the hotel failed to create and implement “appropriate control measures” to ensure the fountain was bacteria-free, and didn’t maintain appropriate water temperatures and biocide levels in the fountain. Keane was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease and died on August 29, 2012.
In May, 2013, Tobias Meyerhoff, a visitor from Germany spent four days at the 70 Park Avenue Hotel in midtown, Manhattan. Ten days after leaving New York, he became sick with symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease and was hospitalized for two weeks in intensive care. He filed a $3 million lawsuit against the Kimpton Hotels, the owner of the property.
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Trial Awards in Legionnaires’ Disease Lawsuits
We are so used to seeing dramatic courtroom dramas unfold on our TVs, that we often forget that, no matter how entertaining these fictional, legal battles may be, they do not accurately represent most real life trials, or our judicial system as a whole. The fact is, the majority of lawsuits are settled out of court, and it is the rare legal proceeding that ends with well-coiffed and silver-voiced attorneys summing up their cases with flashes of oratorical brilliance before cutting to a commercial break.
This is particularly true of civil lawsuits that feature one party suing another for compensatory and/or punitive damages because of negligence, malpractice or breach of contract. Settlements far outnumber trials. For example, even though cases of Legionnaire’s disease have become the focus of aggressive lawsuits over the past several years, most of those claims were settled before a court could decide the matter one way or the other. That is why it is not unusual for a front page story about a victim of Legionnaires’ disease seeking a large sum for compensatory damages getting followed up some months, or even years later, by a small mention on page 16, that the suit has been settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
And even when a Legionnaires’ disease lawsuit does go to trial, the outcome is hardly predictable. Sometimes the case cannot be proven and no award is made. Remember, while the lawyer for a disease victim may have all the facts on his side, the defendant’s attorney will be arguing just as strenuously that the claimant may not have contracted the disease on the premises where the alleged Legionella bacterium was supposedly found, and even if he did, it may not have been due to negligence on the defendant’s part. Indeed, there are many law firms devoted to limiting the legal and pecuniary exposure of defendants in Legionnaires’ disease actions and other similar types of claims.
However, there have been some Legionnaires’ disease lawsuits over the past years that have gone to trial and proceeded to a verdict, rendered either by a judge or a jury. And in some cases, the awards to the plaintiffs have been substantial. Here are some notable examples:
Stevens vs. Cortina Inn
In January 2010, Gail Stevens of Bennington, Vermont successfully sued the Cortina Inn in Mendon, Vt. and was awarded approximately $490,000 by the Bennington County Superior Court. Lawyers for Ms. Stevens were able to prove that she contracted Legionnaires’ disease while staying at the Inn in March 2008, after it was ascertained that the Inn’s water tested positive for the Legionella bacterium.
Judge John Wesley granted Stevens’ request for about $42,000 in compensation for medical bills that were caused by Legionnaires’ disease, and after about an hour of deliberation, the jury awarded Stevens an additional $450,000 in damages for pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.
The irony in this case is that the Inn’s owners had already declared bankruptcy two years before Stevens received her judgment, so collecting the award was never going to be a strong probability.
Marilea Navis vs. Premium Standard Farms, Inc.
Marilea Navis had worked for Premium Standard Farms, since 1996. In February 2002, she was given the job of power washing the walls, ceilings, pens, rooms and concrete hallways where the company’s sows and piglets roamed. Her last day of work was in April of that year, after which she was diagnosed with Legionnaire’s disease. She spent two weeks in a coma and six more, unconscious, while in a hospital in Des Moines, Iowa.
In May 2002, her claim against her employer and its insurer, the Travelers Indemnity Co., was heard before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The judge determined that Navis was exposed to the Legionella bacteria while operating the power sprayer and ordered Premium Standard Farms, Inc., to reimburse her $63,357.43. The ALJ also ordered the company’s insurer to pay Navis $290.25 per week, commencing 200 weeks after September 6, 2002, for the rest of her life, as well as the costs for any future necessary and reasonable medical treatment. The defendants subsequently lost their appeal of the ALJ’s decision.
The Estate of Dr. Luis Acevedo Muro vs. Marriot International, Inc.
In August 2012, Dr. Luis Acevedo Muro, an 80 year-old physician, died of Legionnaires’ disease two weeks after staying at a five-star, JW Marriott hotel in Chicago. The wrongful death suit, initiated by his estate, claimed that Acevedo died after inhaling aerosolized water from a hotel fountain that was contaminated with Legionella bacteria.
Lawyers for the decedent’s widow claimed that the hotel failed to implement control measures that would have detected the bacteria in the fountain, maintain appropriate water temperatures and biocide levels, remove the bacteria, or notify hotel guests of the bacteria’s presence. Several dozen other guests were also infected, and the hotel initiated remediation procedures to remove the Legionella bacteria.
After unsuccessful attempts to settle the case via mediation, it went to trial in April 2014. A federal jury was asked to return a verdict of $12 million, but subsequently awarded Acevedo’s 83 year-old widow nearly $2.3 million for the loss of her husband.
Rodney Handley & Emanuel Howard vs. DEVI, LLC
Rodney Handley and Emanuel Howard were two workers contracted to help clean up tornado damage in the town of Heflin, Alabama, in May 2008. The pair stayed at the Wingate Inn in Oxford, and used the hotel’s hot tub, which was located in the public area near the swimming pool. Within two weeks, both men became ill and subsequently were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.
Both men suffered long-term health consequences requiring extensive medical intervention and their associated expenses. While they both sought and received workers’ compensation benefits, they also initiated separate lawsuits against Wingate Inns and the manager of the hotel, Manju Purohit.
In their suits, the plaintiffs claimed negligence in the maintenance of the hot tub and accused Purohit of hiring a maintenance man who had no training on proper spa maintenance. The two lawsuits were consolidated before trial. Handley died before the trial and his estate replaced him as plaintiff.
After less than an hour of deliberation, a jury in Calhoun County, Alabama returned a verdict of $1,500,000 in compensatory damages for Handley’s estate and the same amount for Howard. It also awarded each plaintiff $750,000 in punitive awards, for a total $4,500,000 verdict.
The plaintiff’s attorney suggested that one reason that the verdict came in so quickly and the amount awarded was so high, was because the jury was angered by the hotel’s disregard for proper procedure. Even though it was told to close the hot tub so that the Alabama Department of Public Health could test the water for Legionella bacteria after the two men became ill, the hotel proceeded to clean and disinfect it instead, thereby destroying any potential evidence. It was also alleged that the hotel had falsified some maintenance records.
Contact a Lawyer With Decades of Experience in Legionnaires’ Disease Lawsuits
If you are experiencing any symptoms that suggest you might have contracted Legionnaires’ disease, seek immediate medical help. If a diagnosis confirms the presence of the Legionella bacteria in your body, you need to obtain legal counsel as soon as possible. We here to advise you and, if necessary, process your claim against any party or entity responsible for your sickness. Contact us for a free consultation or case evaluation. It does not matter where you are located… if we believe you have a valid case we will fly in to meet with you in person and help you put together the strongest possible case.