February 15, 2012

Hospital Blamed for Death from Legionnaires Disease

by Levin & Perconti

The Dayton Daily News reported late last week on a new medical malpractice lawsuit that has been filed against a hospital. According to the report, several families are claiming that the facility was negligent in allowing the deadly disease to spread at the facility. It represents a unique case of general hospital errors that exposed nearly a dozen patients to the potentially deadly problem.

This is the first medical malpractice suit that has been filed stemming from an outbreak of Legionella at the hospital last February. Legionella causes a disease known as Legionellosis disease. It is sometimes referred to as “Legion Fever” and often causes infection, high fever, and potentially deadly pneumonia. The disease first attracted widespread notice when it over 300 people contracted it during a bicentennial celebration in 1776 at an American Legion hall. Thirty four people ultimately died from that first outbreak. Fortunately, the disease did not lead to widespread contamination after that initial event.

However, as this case demonstrates, when not properly controlled, the bacteria can wreck havoc in places like hospitals. According to the report, last year at least eleven people were infected by Legionella at the facility. This was the largest outbreak since 2004 when thirteen patients at an Ohio worksite contracted the disease Of the eleven patients exposed to the bacteria last year, at least three have died and many others have been injured. In fact, the lawsuit claims that while there are eleven known cases of contraction, as many as one hundred and thirty five different patients may actually have been harmed by the Legionella problem.

This latest medical malpractice suit was filed on behalf of several victims, including three that died as a result of the outbreak. The death certificate of one of the patients, a 94-year old man, listed death specifically as caused by Legionella pneumonia. The other two death certificates do not specifically mention the disease, but medical records (and an oral admission by a hospital attorney) confirm that they did have the condition. A patient who survived the outbreak is also represented. According to court documents the woman was not unscathed by the Legionnaires outbreak but instead “suffered a significant loss of lung function, other health hazards and emotional distress as a result of contracting Legionnaires’ disease.”

The lawsuit names various hospital officials as well as a construction company as a defendant. Apparently, the outbreak occurred in a new wing of the hospital that had just been opened. The bacteria likely colonized while the individual parts which were used in the construction sat in a nearby warehouse for months at a time. The building was constructed using a “prefabricated” method. Beyond the patients, many visitors and employees may also have been exposed to the problem.

Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers are disappointed but not surprised by this latest case of mass outbreak at a hospital. Blog readers have likely read about the prevalence of hospital acquired infections. These represent particularly damaging forms of hospital errors. When proper sanitation measures are carried out, these infections should never occur. Yet, those proper measures are often short-tracked, opening the door for potentially deadly outbreaks that can wreak real havoc on those already vulnerable medical patients at the facility.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Medical Malpractice Deaths Could Have Been Avoided if Doctors Washed Their Hands

Too Much Noise in Operating Rooms Increase Surgical Errors