Albany Negligence Lawyer on Recent Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak
Legionnaires’ disease has resurfaced in an Albany building that spawned at least 14 cases of the illness in 2011 and 2012, when it was a hotel. This February, one person has died and another was sickened after a new outbreak at 1228 Western Avenue, formerly a Best Western Sovereign Hotel, now an assisted-living facility.
The Albany County Department of Health confirmed that two residents of Promenade at University Place have tested positive for Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, and that water samples taken from the facility have tested preliminarily positive for the bacteria. DOH Commissioner Dr. Elizabeth Whalen confirmed that one of the persons has died, but noted that other health issues may have contributed to the death. She said that the county and state departments of health are investigating and are working with the facility directors to minimize risk to other residents.
The cases come seven years after hotel guests fell ill with Legionnaires’ after stays at the Best Western, located across from the University at Albany’s uptown campus entrance. The hotel was recently converted into senior housing, opening in December 2018.
Ten cases of Legionnaires’ disease were linked to the hotel between September 2011 and June 2012. The hotel was closed for nearly two months in 2012 while the water boilers and pipes were replaced and the water system was flushed. Still, four more hotel guests developed Legionnaire’s disease after it reopened.
History of Legionnaires’ Disease
Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila, so named because it was first identified in connection with the 1976 American Legion convention in Philadelphia, after which more than 200 attendees fell ill with the disease and 34 died. The bacteria had spread through the air conditioning system in the hotel where all of the victims had stayed. In the aftermath of the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control, in cooperation with other federal, state, and local authorities, undertook one of the largest disease investigations in U.S. history.
Legionnaires’ disease can be contracted by breathing in mist containing the bacteria. According to the CDC, outbreaks “are most commonly associated with buildings or structures that have complex water systems, like hotels, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and cruise ships.” Within these facilities, the Legionella pneumophila can become a health risk “when it grows and spreads in human-made water systems, like hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, and decorative fountains.” The disease disproportionately affects older people and those who already have lung conditions or weakened immune systems; the bacteria do not usually cause infection in healthy people.
Legionnaires’ Negligence Lawsuits Explained
To pursue a legal action against a potentially liable party in a Legionnaire’s disease outbreak, a claimant must prove (1) exposure to the Legionella bacterium; (2) that the exposure occurred on the premises specified in the action; (3) that the exposure resulted in the claimant contracting the disease roughly within the disease’s expected latency period (typically two to 10 days, though it can be a few days longer); and (4) that the exposure was due to negligence.
There are many potential persons or entities that might be held liable for a Legionnaire’s disease claim, including those responsible for the design, construction, manufacture, installation, and maintenance of the building’s water systems. However, the liability usually falls on the owners, operators, and or managers of the premises where the outbreak occurred, especially in states like New York that have strict regulations to protect against Legionella outbreaks at residential and health-care facilities, and at large-scale owners and operators of cooling towers, including but not limited to hotels, high-rise apartment buildings, shopping centers, dry cleaners, grocery stores, and ice-skating rinks. The rules regarding environmental assessment, management, training, maintenance, inspection, and sampling of water systems must be followed or else the facility risks exposure to claims on the basis of negligence.
Dreyer Boyajian LaMarche Safranko is headquartered in Albany, New York, and represents clients in personal injury and negligence cases in state and federal courts throughout New York State. If you or someone you know has been affected by a Legionnaire’s outbreak, call us at (518) 463-7784 or contact us for a no-obligation consultation.