4 More Washington Heights Residents Sue After Contracting Legionnaires’ Disease

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Attorneys Elliot Olsen of Minneapolis and Scott Harford of Manhattan filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Manhattan woman who was sickened during last year's second Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Washington Heights. Health officials identified the Sugar Hill Project (pictured) as the source for both outbreaks. Photo Credit: legionnairesdiseasenews.com

By Ted Brooks

The lawsuits continue to mount from those claiming to have contracted Legionnaires’ disease in 2018 from the cooling tower of a Washington Heights housing complex.

According to medical authorities, Legionnaires’ disease, also known as legionellosis, is a form of atypical pneumonia caused by any type of Legionella bacteria. Signs and symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle pains, and headaches.

Published reports say that nine more individuals have alleged that the Sugar Hill Project at 898 St. Nicholas Ave. at 155th Street was the cause. According to the allegation, the complex’s contaminated cooling tower sent them to the hospital. The suits were filed in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Defending in the lawsuits is Sugar Hill’s parent company, Broadway Housing Communities, Inc., and cooling tower company Clarity Water Technologies LLC. The charge is negligence. In all, 32 have come down with Legionnaires, with one death.

“The city Health Department last November said the Sugar Hill cooling tower was the likely culprit of the outbreaks,” the New York Post reported. “The residents say they experienced “significant impairment, hospitalization, complications, symptoms, and problems caused by Legionnaires’ disease,” which they continue “to experience to the present day,” the lawsuits claim.”

The attorney representing the plaintiffs, Scott Harford, told the Post’s Priscilla DeGregory, “The cases relate to the cooling tower on the top of the building and what happened was it released bacteria into the air through water droplets. My clients breathed the air in from the cooling tower.” (See https://nypost.com/2019/12/06/four-more-washington-heights-residents-sue-after-contracting-legionnaires-disease/)

The attorney for Clarity, Michael Shalhoub, told the Post “Our client takes seriously the health risks posed by legionella. We are confident that our client has taken all necessary steps to protect the public from these risks, and we are prepared to defend the claims made against it in court.”

Each year, between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “People get Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in a mist or vapor (small droplets of water in the air) containing the bacteria. One example might be from breathing in droplets sprayed from a hot tub that has not been properly cleaned and disinfected. The bacteria grow best in warm water, like the kind found in hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, and decorative fountains. They do not seem to grow in car or window air-conditioners. Most healthy individuals do not become infected with Legionella bacteria after exposure.”