Legionnaires disease is a severe form of pneumonia, a lung infection caused by a bacterium known as legionella. You can get it if you breathe in droplets of contaminated water from things such as hot tubs, pools and air conditioning systems.
Although rare, the condition can be very severe and, in some cases, fatal. You can typically catch it in places such as hotels, hospitals and cruise ships. Legionnaires disease outbreaks usually affect many people in a specific area and may entitle you to make a legionnaires disease claim.
Whether you were affected in the UK or overseas, a personal injury solicitor could help you secure the compensation you deserve. If your case has merit, they will likely offer you a no win no fee service so you can take legal action without financial risks or upfront costs.
What is legionnaires disease?
Legionnaires disease is an infection of the lung caused by the legionella bacteria. It is a form of atypical pneumonia that usually develops two to ten days after exposure and begins with the following symptoms:
- Muscle aches and pains
- A high fever that can exceed 40 C
After a few days, you will develop other signs and symptoms, such as:
- A cough which may be dry or produce mucus
- Coughing blood
- Shortness of breath
- Diarrhoea and other gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting
- Chest pain
- Confusion and other mental changes
Although the condition primarily affects the lungs, it can sometimes cause wound infections and affect other body parts, such as the heart. Laboratory tests may also show that kidney and liver functions and electrolyte levels are abnormal.
Anyone can develop legionnaires disease, but it most often affects the elderly, smokers and those who have chronic lung disease. If you think you have been exposed to legionella or show any symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to ensure that you receive the correct treatment and make a full recovery. The illness can lead to several life-threatening complications, especially in immunocompromised people, including:
- Respiratory failure develops when the lungs cannot get enough oxygen into the blood and makes it difficult to breathe on your own.
- Septic shock can occur if the immune system has an extreme response to the legionella infection, which causes a significant drop in blood pressure and reduced blood flow to vital organs like the brain or kidneys. This can lead to stroke, heart failure and death.
- Acute kidney failure is a sudden loss of the kidney’s ability to filter the blood, causing dangerous levels of fluid and waste to accumulate in the body.
If you contracted the bacteria due to someone else’s negligence, you might be eligible to claim legionnaires disease compensation. A free consultation with a legal adviser will let you know whether your case has merit and the steps you should take to secure a fair settlement for your damages.
What causes legionnaires disease, and where could I contract it?
Legionnaires disease is caused by exposure to dangerously high levels of Legionella pneumophila bacteria. It is typically contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets containing the bacteria from:
- Jacuzzis, hot tubs and whirlpools
- Fountain sprays
- Taps and showers that are not used often
- Cooling towers in air conditioning systems
- Swimming pools
- Hot water tanks and heaters
Although it is rare, you could also contract the bacteria from:
- Other people who have the infection
- Places like ponds, lakes and rivers
- Drinking contaminated water
The Legionella bacterium is found naturally in fresh water in small, non-toxic quantities. It is extremely rare to contract the disease in outdoor surroundings, but it can contaminate the water supply systems in public access facilities such as:
- Cruise ships
- Nursing homes
If you were diagnosed with the disease after being onboard a cruise ship, staying at a hotel or from any other setting, you might be eligible to make a legionnaires disease claim for compensation.
Not every person who comes into contact with the bacteria will become ill. Certain risk factors increase the severity of symptoms and risk of complications. You are more likely to develop a Legionella infection if you:
- Are over 50 years old
- Are a smoker or a former smoker
- Suffer from diabetes or kidney, heart or lung disease
- Have a weakened immune system, for example, due to HIV or cancer treatment
- Are a heavy drinker
- Have pre-existing breathing problems
Those who present the signs and symptoms of pneumonia and have a recent travel history should be tested for legionella. To help identify the presence of bacteria, your doctor may use the following:
- A test that checks your urine for legionella antigens
- Blood tests
- A chest X-ray to see the extent of infection in your lungs
- Tests on a sample of your sputum or lung tissue
The sooner you start therapy, the lower the chance of developing severe complications. Hospitalisation is often required, and the treatment for legionnaires disease includes:
- Antibiotics that are given directly into the vein; you may switch to tablets once you get home, for another one to three weeks
- A machine to help you breathe
- Oxygen therapy through a face mask or nose tubes
Legionnaires disease is not a common illness, but it could cause life-threatening complications and has a mortality rate of around 10%. If you were diagnosed with the condition or lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you might be able to make a claim for legionnaires disease.
Can I make a legionnaires disease claim?
Legionnaires disease is an infection caused by a bacterium that you could catch in public places such as a hotel or hospital. If the owner or authority responsible for the facility failed to have proper health and safety procedures in place, you might be able to make a legionnaires disease claim.
The easiest way to find out whether you have a valid case is by contacting a legal adviser for a free consultation. They will investigate your circumstances to determine whether:
- Your illness has occurred in the last three years
- Someone else was responsible for it
- That person or entity owed you a duty of care
- They breached their duty by acting negligently
If you have a valid claim for legionnaires disease, your solicitor will consider the many ways in which your illness has affected your life to work out a fair compensation award. Your settlement will factor in general damages awarded for pain and suffering and special damages awarded for financial losses and expenses, such as:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Mental anguish and psychological distress
- Reduced life quality and enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium or companionship
- Inability to pursue a hobby or social event
- Cost of diagnostic tests, medical treatments and hospitalisation
- Costs of care and assistance during recovery
- Lost wages and loss of earning capacity
- Cost of medical aids
After working out how much legionnaires disease compensation you are entitled to, your solicitor will contact the other side and inform them of your intentions to take legal action. The defendant has three months to investigate your claim and admit or deny liability for your illness.
If they accept responsibility, you can begin to negotiate a settlement. Otherwise, your solicitor will have to issue court proceedings, and you may have to argue your case before a judge. This is rarely the case, as more than 95% of all personal injury claims are settled out of court.
If you feel you may have a valid legionnaires disease claim, call 0800 678 1410 or request a call back to receive a free consultation with a legal adviser. If you have a fair chance of success, they will also offer you a no win no fee agreement so you can take legal action without any financial risks.
Who could be liable for my legionnaires disease claim?
Legionnaires disease is a public health issue and can be contracted in places such as hospitals, offices, hotels and cruise ships if the water system is contaminated with the legionella bacteria.
In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) imposes strict rules on controlling the risk of contracting the bacteria. Any businesses operating water systems like cooling towers, taps and showers, spa pools or hot tubs have certain obligations under health and safety laws to protect their employees and others from harm.
Legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 set out the responsibilities the property owner, landlord, employer or local authority have to protect you from legionella. These responsibilities include:
- To keep the water temperatures either below 20C or above 50C, avoiding the range in which the bacterium thrives;
- Carry out regular risk assessments to identify the risk areas for legionella;
- Keep formal written records of testing, inspections and periodic maintenance of water systems;
- Prevent stagnation when possible and, when not possible, thoroughly disinfect the water systems by using high heat, chlorination or a chemical biocide;
- Prevent the build-up of biofilm by regularly eliminating the build-up of rust, algae and other organic matter that could encourage bacterial growth;
- If any system faults are found, they should be immediately rectified to prevent illnesses;
- Reduce the production of aerosols and human exposure to them by directing them away from building air intakes;
- Provide adequate training and information to staff.
If you contracted legionella due to a breach of these duties, you might be eligible to make a legionnaires disease claim against:
- Your employer
- Your landlord
- The local council
- The owner of a private business
For a free consultation with a legal adviser, call 0800 678 1410. They can let you know if you may be eligible to make a claim for legionnaires disease and answer any questions you may have.
How long do I have to claim legionnaires disease compensation?
As a general rule, you can file a legionnaires disease claim within three years after the date of knowledge. This is the date on which you knew or should have known that you suffered a significant injury due to the defendant’s negligence or omission.
The last date you can claim is known as the claim limitation date, after which your case becomes statute-barred, and you can no longer claim for legionnaires disease compensation. Under section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980, the court has the authority to override the three-year time limit if it is fair and reasonable to do so, according to the length and reason for your delay.
There are several exceptions to the three-year limitation date to file a claim for legionnaires disease, which include the following:
Claims on behalf of children – If the victim is a child, a parent or another litigation friend can claim on their behalf at any point before their 18th birthday. Once the child turns 18, they can bring their own claim at any time up until their 21st birthday.
Mental capacity – According to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, there is no time limit to make a legionnaires disease claim if the victim cannot handle their case due to:
- The long-term complications of the legionella infection
- A mental health disease like schizophrenia
- An intellectual disability such as Down syndrome
- A neurodegenerative condition such as dementia
- A stroke or traumatic brain injury
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The time limit starts to run if the victim regains their mental capacity.
Fatal illness – If you lost a loved one due to the complications of legionnaires disease, you could make a dependency claim within three years from the date of their death. Alternatively, you might have three years to claim after a post-mortem has confirmed the cause of death.
International claims – If you contracted legionella abroad, the time limits affecting your claim can depend on each country’s laws and could be much shorter than three years.
Getting in touch with a personal injury solicitor as early as possible after your illness makes collecting evidence easier and helps build a strong claim for legionnaires disease. Furthermore, many solicitors will not accept a case with less than six months left before the limitation date.
To start your claim or find out more about your compensation prospects, speak to a trained legal adviser by calling 0800 678 1410 for a free consultation. Or, if you prefer to receive a call back, please enter your details into our online claim form.