A recent New York Times article reported that Michigan state officials have been charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of an 85 year old resident of Flint MI. Conviction could lead to a maximum of 20 years in prison. According to the article, the state officials knew about Legionnaires’s disease being associated with the Flint water supply as early as 2014 but did not respond to the problem in a timely fashion, and, more importantly, failed to tell the public about the growing number of Legionnaires’ disease cases.
This newspaper article points up a number of issues surrounding Legionnaires’ disease. Many defendants encountered during the course of litigation by this law firm know about legionella bacteria being present in their water system yet failed to implement adequate remedies (in the case of Flint MI the addition of a $200/day anti-corrosive chemical needed to be added to the water system to stop the outbreak). Often times the hotel owner defendant will not even follow the instructions of the local health department regarding remediation, and will only do so after being ordered to shut down their operations.
Perhaps a more troublesome issue coming out of the Flint, MI indictments is the lack of a national warning system such as the one that exists in Europe to tell travelers about an outbreak at a particular location such as a hotel. While the CDC is tasked with protecting the health of the nation as a whole, this organization will not even send a warning to a state health department about Legionnaires’ disease suspected of being associated with a particular location unless two or more confirmed cases have been associated with the hotel. By then it is often too late.
The final issue coming out of this article is the lack of sanctions that would prevent future outbreaks like the Flint, MI one from occurring again. Criminal sanctions should not only apply when there is governmental cover-up of an outbreak as in Flint, but also when a private entity causes the death of an innocent victim.