Legionnaires’ Disease: When Negligence or Malpractice Leads to an Outbreak

As hundreds of people gather at a hotel for a convention, something sinister begins to spread mysteriously through the air. Dozens of people began to fall ill with fevers, breathing problems, and headaches, but no one can find a patient zero or source of the outbreak.

This sounds like the plot of a horror film fit for a Halloween movie marathon, but this situation actually happened in 1976, leading to the discovery of a new and dangerous illness: Legionnaires’ disease.

What is Legionnaires’ Disease?

Legionnaires’ disease, named after the 1976 American Legion Convention in Philadelphia where the illness was first reported, is a severe form of pneumonia. It is caused by a bacterium called legionella, and leads to symptoms like:

  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Coughing or shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Chest pain

Like pneumonia, it can be fatal for very young or elderly people or people with weakened immune systems or preexisting lung conditions. If untreated, it can also lead to complications like respiratory failure, septic shock, or kidney failure.

How Legionnaires’ Disease Spreads

Unlike many other types of infections, Legionnaires’ disease does not spread through person-to-person contact. Instead, the bacterium spreads through airborne water droplets, which infect victims when they breathe in the droplets. Some common culprits of outbreaks include:

  • Hot tubs
  • Grocery store mist machines
  • Air conditioning systems
  • Pools
  • Medical equipment
  • Workout equipment
  • Decorative fountains

Outbreaks are frequently seen in places with complex water systems, like hotels, cruise ships, nursing homes, and hospitals.

When Legionnaires’ disease occurs at a hospital or nursing home, it can have particularly deadly consequences. Many people in hospitals or nursing home are already suffering from weakened immune systems, making them especially susceptible to an outbreak. When people in hospitals and nursing home contract Legionnaires’ disease as the result of negligent or inadequate care or procedures, it might be medical malpractice.

Infection Outbreak and Medical Malpractice

When someone falls ill from Legionnaires’ disease, they may be able to hold someone liable for their suffering and related complications, like lost wages or medical bills. Since places like cruise ships and nursing homes have a duty to keep their patrons safe, they should take all necessary steps to prevent the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease or any other illness by taking proper measures like using the right amount of chlorine, disinfecting water sources like hot tubs, and checking regularly for any issues. If a company or property owner falls to take reasonable precautions or ignores warning signs, they might be liable as a result of their negligent or reckless behavior.

Determining Liability

For an affected person to hold someone liable for their Legionnaires’ disease, they must prove that:

  • They were exposed to the legionella bacterium
  • The exposure resulted in the contraction of Legionnaires’ disease
  • The exposure was due to negligence

One factor that complicates liability lawsuits over Legionnaire’s disease is the latency period of the infection. Some people begin showing signs within two days of their exposure. For others, symptoms might not appear for up to fourteen days. When the symptoms take longer to develop, the negligent party might attempt to argue that the exposure occurred somewhere else.

Liability for Legionnaires’ disease is complex, but for people who have suffered or wrongfully lost a loved one due to the negligence of a nursing home or other property, the hard fight is worth it.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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