Many questions have arisen since the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease among visitors to the North Carolina Mountain State Fair held at the NC Agriculture Center in Buncombe County. Some questions surrounding the outbreak are related to the health risks associated with the disease, and other questions concern legal issues. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported there were 97 confirmed cases and one death associated with the outbreak at the fair as of October 1 and officials continue the investigation to determine the cause of the outbreak. The outbreak has affected people in 16 North Carolina counties and 6 cases have been reported in South Carolina. The highest number of cases have reported in Buncombe and Henderson counties.
I remember when Legionnaires’ disease first hit the news in 1976 when a large group of American Legion members staying in a hotel in Philadelphia contracted a mysterious disease. Over 180 persons contracted the condition, and 29 died. Ultimately, it was diagnosed as a type of pneumonia that was spread by contaminated water vapor in the hotel HVAC system. Dubbed “Legionnaire’s Disease,” the illness occurs with some regularity. It is not spread by person to person contact; instead the bacteria thrives in warm water and is spread by breathing in aerosolized water. The bacteria thrives at 95 degrees F and can be found in hot water tanks, cooling towers, and evaporative condensers of large air conditioning systems, and evaporative coolers, among other places.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include chills, cough, fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, and vomiting. Persons experiencing those symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately and talk to them about Legionnaire’s disease. Urine testing can confirm the presence of legionella, the bacteria known to cause the diseases. Symptoms typically appear within 2-14 days after fair attendance, and the condition is typically treated with antibiotics.
Since the disease was first identified in 1976 and its cause was traced to the hotel HVAC in Philadelphia, the onset of the outbreak has been traced to building water systems, hot water heaters, indoor spas and pools, fountains and humidifiers. The owners and managers of buildings and facilities have been held responsible for negligent design, negligent maintenance and negligent construction of various facilities. In the past, hotels, hospitals, senior housing facilities, cruise ships, nursing homes, shopping malls, and condominiums have faced legal liability for victims of the disease. In order to bring a claim against a person or company causing the outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease, a person must be able to show:
- That he or she was exposed to the Legionella bacteria that causes the disease
- That the expose occurred at the location named in the suit
- That the exposure was due to the negligence on the part of the owner or operator of the premises
- That the exposure resulted in Legionnaire’s disease
Settlements and verdicts of these cases are generally based on several factors, including whether the victim survives or dies. If you have questions about or your or a loved one have contracted Legionnaires’ disease, please call Grimes Teich Anderson today at 800-533-6845.