Hotel Liability for Legionnaires’ Disease

Cases of Legionnaires’ Disease occurring at hotels and resorts are rising in number.  On June 7, 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) issued a report which documents a growing number of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in hotels and other public facilities. According to the CDC, about 5,000 cases were diagnosed last year. Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria. Persons with compromised immune systems and the elderly can contract Legionnaires’ disease if exposed to the bacteria. Hospitalization is often required and about 10% of cases are fatal according to the CDC.  Injuries from Legionnaires’ disease range from symptoms including cough, fever, chills, shortness of breath, muscle aches,  to severe pneumonia and death.

How Legionnaires’ Disease is Contracted

The bacteria grows in infected water.  A person can be exposed by inhaling the mist of the infected water. Showering with infected water is a primary source of the disease. Dirty, stagnant water is a favorable environment for growth of Legionella bacteria.

Legionnaires’ Disease and Injuries Within a Hotel

Any vessel through which water travels is a potential source if inadequate water-systems management is not followed. Showers, air-conditioning, cooling towers, hot tubs and plumbing pipes are potential trouble areas.  Cooling towers remove heat from water by mixing a cool air stream with the water, with the water then circulating through a mechanical refrigeration unit.  The temperature that water cools at is often the ideal temperature range for Legionniares’ bacteria to grow.

The Opera House Hotel in New York City was determined to be the source of a Legionnaire’s disease outbreak in 2015.  12 people were killed and 128 people became ill.  The cause of the outbreak was found to be the hotel’s water cooling tower.  As the result of the massive outbreak, a new law was put in place in New York City requiring quarterly inspections of hotel water coolers.  Unfortunately, not all cities and counties have the same inspections requirements.

In  2015, A Best Western Hotel in Hannibal, Missouri had four rooms test positive for Legionella bacteria.  Three people became ill after staying in the hotel, and one of the three people died. In Flint, Michigan, between 2014 and 2015, the number of Legionnaire’s disease cases rose during the same period of time that Flint residents’ water supply was being drawn from the filthy Flint River.


The CDC regards Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks as preventable with proper management. Failure to change filters, unmonitored, decaying plumbing and lack of proper disinfectant application have led to outbreaks of this dangerous and potentially life threatening disease.  When a hotel fails to take necessary steps to prevent the spread of Legionnaires’ Disease, injured hotel guests have a right to compensation for their injuries.

Duty to Protect Guests from Injury

The owners and operators of hotels have legal obligations to their guests. The law recognizes that the owner and/or operator of a hotel owe a duty of reasonable care to keep guests safe from hazards that are not open and obvious. This includes a duty of constant vigilance as to risks that place guests in harm’s way. Every hotel owner or operator is aware, or should be aware, of the risk of Legionnaires’ disease caused by improper maintenance of pipes and water storage areas.

Under the circumstances, a prudent and ethical hotel owner and operator must develop a risk assessment of their facility and maintenance program to protect guests from exposure to Legionella bacteria. This should include surveillance and sample testing of water. Failure to conduct an appropriate investigation may be grounds for a court to find willful ignorance by the owner/operator. Damages caused by a failure to use reasonable care can result in legal liability to the injured guests and other foreseeable victims.

Legionnaire’s Disease Injury Attorneys

Whitney, LLP is accepting Legionnaires’ Disease injury cases against hotels.  If you or a friend or family member has contracted Legionnaire’s disease, or have questions about a legal claim for Legionnaire’s disease, our Legionnaire’s disease injury attorneys can help.  Contact us now for a legal consultation. Call us at 410 583 8000 or use our Quick Contact Form.  Attorney’s fees are paid only when we recover compensation for injured clients.


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