Legionnaires’ disease is caused by bacteria called Legionella that grows best in water between the temperature range of 77ºF-120ºF. A major source of Legionnaires’ disease is cooling towers that are not properly maintained. A CDC study found Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease in 84% of cooling towers they tested across the United States. If you believe you’ve contracted Legionnaires’ disease from a cooling tower, you should know your legal rights.
What Is Legionnaires’ Disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is a respiratory infection that someone often develops after exposure to Legionella bacteria. Legionella occurs naturally in many freshwater sources and is pretty much harmless in small amounts. But when property owners fail to properly maintain and clean ventilation and cooling systems, overgrowth of the bacteria can occur. People contract the disease when they drink water or inhale water vapors from contaminated water sources like water fountains or hot tubs.
The CDC reports that there are about 5,000 diagnosed cases of Legionnaires’ disease and 20 reported outbreaks every year. About one out of every ten people that contract Legionnaires’ disease will die from it. The primary symptoms are similar to pneumonia: cough, fever, muscle aches, fatigue, shortness of breath, and headaches. Legionnaires’ disease can lead to failure of the respiratory system, kidneys, organ damage, cardiac infections, or death. It’s especially dangerous for the elderly, current and former smokers, or people with chronic illnesses.
How Do Cooling Towers Cause Legionella Outbreaks?
Cooling towers are part of large centralized air conditioning systems. Larger buildings use cooling towers to cool parts of the system with circulating water. The cooling towers have large fans that mix air with the heated water to lower the water temperatures, extract the heat, and eject it into the air in the form of water vapor.
It is very easy for Legionella in cooling towers to grow to dangerous levels if the towers are not properly disinfected. Legionella thrives in warm, humid environments. And cooling towers have huge open tanks of warm water that provide an ideal habitat for Legionella growth. Legionella can survive at a wide range of temperatures, between 77 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. When the cooling tower releases contaminated water into the atmosphere, wind can carry the water droplets long distances. Then there is potential that anyone in the vicinity can inhale the water vapor and become infected. For this reason, cooling towers can be the source of potentially large outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease.
One such outbreak happened in New York in 2015. One single cooling tower in the South Bronx was linked to 138 cases of Legionnaires’ disease and 16 deaths. The victims ranged in age from 29-90 and were people living, visiting and/or working in the neighborhood.
Another well-known outbreak happened in 2017 and resulted from Disneyland cooling towers that were part of a system that sprayed mist on the crowds. In that instance, 22 people contracted Legionnaires’ from the cooling towers and two people died.
What Are My Legal Options If I Contracted Legionnaires’ Disease from Cooling Towers?
Legionella overgrowth generally happens because of human error—someone neglected to maintain the cooling tower or other water system. It is impossible to prevent all Legionella because it is a naturally occurring bacteria. However, routine disinfecting, cleaning, and maintenance help prevent overgrowth and Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks. If you contracted Legionnaires’ disease from cooling tower water vapor, you may be entitled to compensation. To pursue your claim, you need a lawyer that is familiar with Legionnaires’ disease.
How Do I Know Who to Sue?
Figuring out the source of your Legionnaires’ disease will probably be the toughest part of your claim. It’s also the most essential part because that is how you figure out who to sue. If the source was a cooling tower, you’re probably not the only person infected, which makes your case a lot easier. Local health officials conduct testing to discover the source of disease where it affects a large number of people in an area. However, if you are not part of a major outbreak, then it will be up to you to do your own research and testing.
There could be several people or entities who are responsible for maintaining the cooling tower, and all these could be defendants in your claim. Typically the negligent parties include the owner of the tower and the entity in charge of maintaining it. Legionnaires’ disease lawsuit defendants can also include property owners, cooling tower architects, engineers, hotels, spas, prisons, and any other large facility. Your attorney will help you figure out where you contracted the disease and who should be part of your lawsuit.
How Much Compensation Will I Receive from My Legionnaires’ Disease Lawsuit?
Your settlement or jury award depends on the facts of your case. You can receive compensation for the amount of your past and future medical bills and lost wages resulting from the disease, including costs for any hospital stays or transportation to medical visits. These are economic damages, which are based on the actual financial losses you’ve suffered.
You could also receive compensation for pain and suffering or emotional distress. If your loved one died from Legionnaires’ disease, you could receive compensation for their wrongful death. These are non-economic damages. The financial amounts awarded for these kinds of damages varies widely based on the circumstances of the case.
How Will My Legionnaires’ Disease Attorney Help Me?
To prove your claim, your attorney must show that the person or business you are suing was negligent in maintaining their cooling towers. They will gather evidence to show that:
- You have a confirmed diagnosis of Legionnaires’ disease,
- You were exposed to contaminated water droplets expelled from cooling towers,
- The responsible party did not properly maintain the cooling tower system, and
- You suffered damages because of their negligence.
Your attorney will handle the burden of crafting a case to support your claim for compensation for your Legionnaires’ disease. Doing so will probably involve:
- Investigating the scene of exposure to gather evidence,
- Obtaining your relevant medical records,
- Collecting reports from local health agencies,
- Interviewing witnesses and other victims,
- Hiring experts to testify, and
- Negotiating with the defendants or their insurance companies.
If your attorney is not able to get a fair settlement for you by negotiating with the responsible parties, they will represent you at trial.
Contact Riley | Ersoff LLP for Your Legionnaires’ Disease Lawsuit
Riley | Ersoff LLP has a team of experienced lawyers that focus exclusively on cases involving property owners’ negligence, such as Legionnaires’ disease, lead-based paint poisoning, and slum housing. We have a record of success for helping people get the compensation they deserve, having recovered over $110 million for our clients to date. Our partner Victoria L. Ersoff has more than 28 years of legal experience and has handled over 2,000 Legionnaires’ disease cases. Contact us today to schedule a consultation for your Legionnaires’ disease claim.