Outbreak of Negligence: What Will it Take to Successfully Sue for a Legionnaires' Infection?
In August 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio put a law on the books making building owners responsible for regularly inspecting onsite cooling towers for Legionella bacteria, the organisms that cause Legionnaires' disease. The law was inspired by the outbreak of Legionnaires' in the Bronx that has, so far, claimed 12 lives and made over 120 people sick. If you were affected by this disease, you may be wondering if you can collect money for medical expenses and other associated losses. Here's what you need to know about winning this type of personal injury case.
Determine if Negligence Was Involved
To have a case for damages, you must first prove the other party had a legal duty to prevent your injuries and the person breached that duty in some way. In the case of Legionnaires' disease, you have to show the responsible party was legally bound to take precautions to prevent others from being exposed to Legionella bacteria.
For instance, many government agencies and manufacturers have developed guidelines advising others on the proper way to maintain cooling towers to prevent the growth and spread of of Legionella bacteria. If the owner of a cooling tower failed to adhere to these guidelines, then he or she may be held responsible for any injuries that result.
On the other hand, if there are no laws or regulations requiring people to follow those guidelines, then the other party may be able to successfully argue that he or she had no legal duty to prevent the spread of the disease. You'll need to research the laws in your area and determine the level of responsibility the other party had in minimizing the risk of an outbreak.
Another thing you'll need to prove is that the person's breach of his or her legal duty caused your injuries. Not only do you have to show that the person failed to take proper precautions to prevent others from getting sick, you'll have to show your illness was a direct result of the person's failure.
This can be challenging when it comes to Legionnaires' disease. People come into contact with Legionella bacteria all the time because it's found in soil and water. However, the bacterium doesn't become a problem until it's aerosolized and people breathe in contaminated moisture.
Cooling towers are the most common source of contaminated moisture because the water from the towers evaporate and get into the environment. However, Legionella also thrives in water heaters and underground plumbing and can become aerosolized when people take showers. Additionally, the bacterium can travel a minimum of 6 kilometers from the original source.
The challenge here, then, will be to prove you were infected by bacterium from a specific source. It's possible to do this by a process of elimination or proving the source is the most likely culprit. For instance, proving you didn't come into contact with aerosolized Legionella from other sources such as the plumbing system in your home or showing that other people within the same geographical area were similarly sickened.
Another way is to have a laboratory examine bacteria taken from you (or the infected person) to the bacteria found at the possible source site to see if there is a match. The window of opportunity for this type of matching may be limited since the source will likely be decontaminated and the infected person will take medication to kill the bacteria in the body. Therefore, it's essential that this testing is done ASAP after infection.
Showing You Sustained Damages
It's not enough to show the other party was negligent and you were injured as a result, you also have to prove you sustained damages worth compensation. If you got sick but didn't incur any losses (e.g. lost time from work), for example, then you may not be awarded any monetary compensation in your case.
Compensable damages include
- medical expenses (both current and future)
- lost wages (both current and future)
- money lost from altered plans (e.g. cancelled family trip)
- pain and suffering
- funeral expenses
- loss of financial contribution
- loss of companionship and consortium
The exact damages you can collect will depend on your case and the laws in your area. It's essential that you speak to a personal injury attorney in your area about your case to determine what needs to be done to achieve the outcome you want.