On June 3, 2014, a federal judge approved the settlement of a medical malpractice/wrongful death claim filed by the survivors of a man who contracted Legionnaires’ disease while a patient at the Pittsburgh VA hospital.
The 83-year-old Navy veteran was being treated for a urinary tract infection when he contracted Legionnaires’ disease and died in the Pittsburgh VA hospital on July 18, 2011. The veteran was one of at least six patients at the Pittsburgh VA hospital who died from Legionnaires’ disease between February and November 2011; more than 20 Pittsburgh VA hospital patients became infected with Legionnaires’ disease during that period of time. The source of the Legionnaires’ disease was reportedly the water treatment facilities at the VA hospital.
The $227,500 settlement was based, in part, on the elderly veteran’s advanced age and his poor health at the time he contracted Legionnaires’ disease. The medical malpractice plaintiffs will receive approximately $159,600, after attorney fees and expenses are deducted.
The family filed the medical malpractice/wrongful death claim on behalf of the veteran’s estate, alleging that the VA was negligent in addressing the Legionella bacteria in its water system and was further negligent in treating the veteran once he became infected with the Legionella bacterium.
What Is Legionnaires’ Disease?
According to the CDC’s website, Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the bacterium known as Legionella. Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, usually in water, and grow best in warm water, such as in hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, and decorative fountains (it does not appear that Legionella bacteria grow in car or window air-conditioners).
Legionella is named after a 1976 outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease when some participants at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia contracted the disease.
Legionnaires’ disease is contracted when people breathe in a mist or vapor containing Legionella. Most people exposed to the bacteria do not become ill; the bacteria are not spread from person to person. People at higher risk of getting sick are people over 50 years of age; current or former smokers; people with a chronic lung disease such as COPD or emphysema; people whose immune systems are weakened due to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, or kidney failure; and, people taking drugs that suppress the immune system.
Between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease in the U.S. every year. More cases usually occur in the summer and early fall but can occur at any time of the year.
Legionnaires’ disease symptoms usually begin 2 to 14 days after being exposed to the bacteria and may include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches, and headaches. The diagnosis can be difficult to make because the symptoms are also common in other ailments.
Most people with Legionnaires’ disease will have pneumonia (confirmed by chest x-ray or by physical exam) because the bacteria grow and thrive in the lungs. People with pneumonia and with a positive urinary antigen test that detects a part of the Legionella bacteria in urine are considered to have Legionnaires’ disease. Most people diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Healthy people usually recover but hospitalization is often required. Complications can include lung failure and death (death occurs in 5% to 30% of the cases of Legionnaires’ disease).
If you or a loved one received negligent medical care through the VA, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a local medical malpractice attorney (VA medical malpractice attorney) in your U.S. state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim against the VA for you and represent you in a VA medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website or telephone us toll-free at 800-295-3959 to be connected with VA medical malpractice lawyers who may assist you with your claim against the VA.
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