Deadly Bacteria Legionella Creating Disease and Liability Risks for Building Owners and Managers


Recent high profile outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease highlight the need for building owners and facilities managers to guard against the risk of this potentially deadly disease through proper water systems management and insurance coverage.

According to a recent article in an authoritative engineering journal, the ASHRAE Journal, reported cases of Legionnaires' disease have increased by approximately four and a half times since 2000. The disease is caused by the Legionella bacterium. It is commonly contracted by inhaling contaminated water mist from stagnant water systems such as water cooling towers, air conditioning systems, and hot tubs.

Highlighting this risk, a recent outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in California was possibly linked to visitors at Disneyland. State officials confirmed that fifteen individuals have been infected with the disease. Their ages range from fifty-two to ninety-two and two people with preexisting conditions died after contracting the disease. In response, the theme park shut down and sanitized two cooling towers linked to its air conditioning system.

Developing water management programs to prevent the growth of Legionella and other waterborne bacteria is essential for facilities managers. These programs should include a current inventory of all the water systems in a building, identification of all risks associated with each water system, and plans to control any harmful bacteria that may propagate within each system.

The increase in Legionnaires' diagnoses has also led to a rise in insurance claims in recent months, according to the trade website, Insurance Business America. Such claims have originated from a variety of facilities, but hotels and senior care centers have been the most common. As such, the demand for insurance coverage to protect against the risk posed by the disease has risen.

With the increased incidence and risk of the potentially deadly Legionnaires' disease and the complicated nature of commercial insurance policies, it is more imperative than ever for facilities managers to: (1) develop a water management plan that is effective at reducing the incidence of disease and (2) to assess the adequacy of their insurance coverage to guard against potential claims.

Governo Law Firm has represented clients in environmental and toxic tort claims for three decades. Mr. Governo has been an ASHRAE member for over a decade. We regularly follow scientific, medical and legal developments in toxic tort claims, including Legionnaires' disease, asbestos, chemicals, lead and mold. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact David Governo at [email protected] or Vincent DePalo at [email protected].