Leesfield Scolaro reached two six-figure settlements in Legionnaires’ Disease cases against the same Resort. Ira Leesfield and Michael Shepherd argued that the resort was negligent in failing to properly maintain and sanitize its water systems, including decorative water features, which led to the spread of the bacteria and the infection of guests.
Our two clients, one from Florida and the other from Maryland, did not know each other and their stay did not overlap in time. Nonetheless, both were infected, contracted the disease and experienced a very similar onset of symptoms. First they began experiencing generalized body soreness, extreme fatigue, chills, difficulty breathing, and high fever. They went to the hospital within days of returning from the resort and were admitted with pneumonia and double pneumonia respectively. Infectious disease doctors consulted with both clients and upon further testings, a diagnosis of Legionnaires’ Disease was made.
Maryland and Florida’s Department of Health officials investigated the potential source of the infection and quickly zeroed in on a Florida resort as the potential source. Within days Health officials inspected the resort and found the Legionella bacteria in one of the many decorative water features of the resort. Within ten months of being retained, Leesfield Scolaro secured a six-figure settlement for each client.
Our firm is currently handling more Legionnaires’ Diseases cases on behalf of out of state clients who contracted the disease while visiting Florida and staying in hotels located in Central Florida, South Florida and the Florida Keys.
Hotels and Resorts are on Notice
In the face of such an epidemic, in August 2022 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidelines specifically directed to Hotels and Resorts advising of the dangers of the bacteria. The CDC also explained how and where Legionella could grow and spread in many different areas of hotels and resorts:
- Showers: Legionella can grow in and spread through showerheads if a building’s water has low disinfectant levels.
- Hot Tubs: The warm temperature supports growth of Legionella, which can spread through water jets if hot tubs are not well maintained.
- Decorative Fountains: Legionella can grow in warm areas of a fountain and splashing can spread water containing Legionella.
- Water Supply Interruptions: Events that interrupt the delivery of municipal water to a building, such as nearby construction, can allow dirt to enter the system and use up disinfectant.
- Unoccupied Floors and Rooms: Low occupancy decreases water flow, which can decrease disinfectant levels and increase the risk of Legionella growth.
- Cooling Towers: When disinfectant levels are low, cooling tower fans can spray water containing Legionella.
The CDC took the extra step to advise hotel owners and resort operators that setting up a Water Management Program is now an industry standard for large buildings in the United States and that all actors in the hospitality industry must adopt and tailor a water management program to their specific buildings. Having such a program in place will help identify areas where the bacteria could grow and spread, will reduce the risk of infection a guest or employee by managing and monitoring the water system, and will trigger action when risks are identified.
The Quiet Epidemic
According to the Mayo Clinic, Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia – a lung inflammation usually caused by infection. It’s caused by a bacterium known as legionella. People catch Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling the bacteria from water or soil. Elderly people, smokers and people with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to become infected by the bacteria. Most infected patients will experience mild symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches and headaches. According to the CDC however, about 15 out of 100 people who get Legionnaires’ Disease will die from the infection.
In Florida, the numbers have skyrocketed. Since 2002, the number of cases in Broward County have exploded by 925%, 1,200% in Orange County, and 3,000% in Miami-Dade. In Florida, the number of cases since 1999 have risen by 1,634.5%
State Action – How is a Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak handled by State Officials?
When a patient is diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, state health officials must take several actions to prevent further spread of the disease and protect public health. These actions include:
- Investigating the source of the outbreak: State health officials will work to identify the source of the Legionella bacteria that caused the patient’s infection. They may test water sources, air conditioning systems, and other potential sources of the bacteria. This includes referring the matter to another State health official if the patient has recently traveled.
- Notifying the public: State health officials may issue public health alerts to inform the public about the outbreak and advise people on how to protect themselves from the disease.
- Recommending control measures: Once the source of the outbreak is identified, state health officials may recommend control measures such as shutting down the source, cleaning and disinfecting it, and testing the water supply.
- Monitoring the situation: State health officials will continue to monitor the situation and take action as needed to prevent further spread of the disease. They may also track and report cases of Legionnaires’ disease to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Collaborating with other agencies: State health officials may work with local health departments, hospitals, and other agencies to investigate and respond to the outbreak.
If you were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ Disease after visiting the State of Florida, contact us at 1-800-836-6400 for a free consultation.
Over the last 35 years, Leesfield Scolaro has handled Resort Tort claims on behalf of injured visitors. Resort Torts refer to the legal claims that can arise from accidents or injuries that occur at a resort or other type of vacation destination. These types of claims include injuries as a result of activities such as jet skiing, boating, parasailing, foiling (hydrofoil use), flyboard flying, kayaking, paddle-boarding, snorkeling, and other water-related activities that are commonly offered at travel destinations. Resort torts can also include claims related to accidents that occur on the property of the resort, such as slip and fall, sexual assault, negligent security, carbon monoxide poisoning, contracting deadly infections such as Legionnaires’ Disease, or injuries caused by faulty or defective equipment.