New York Team Successfully Concludes Mass Tort Litigation Arising from New York City’s Largest Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak
New York, N.Y. (September 24, 2021) - A Lewis Brisbois litigation team, led by New York Partners Jennifer W. Yuen and Darrell J. Whiteley and Associate Andrew Zarriello, successfully secured dismissals by motion, voluntary discontinuances, and favorable settlements of over 50 cases filed in Bronx County Supreme Court arising from the largest and deadliest Legionnaires’ disease outbreak ever recorded in New York City's history. The plaintiffs alleged claims of negligence, products liability, and breach of contract by the defendants resulting in illness and fatalities caused by exposure to airborne Legionella pneumophila bacteria. The New York team served as lead defense and trial counsel for two clients named in all the actions.
The South Bronx Legionnaires’ disease outbreak of 2015 was linked to an endemic strain of Legionella pneumophila bacteria, a single cooling tower, 138 documented cases of serious illness, and 16 deaths. Its impact led to sweeping reforms in New York laws governing registration and maintenance of water-cooling towers to prevent the growth of Legionella and reduce cases of Legionnaires’ disease, which have been on a steep rise in recent years.
The Lewis Brisbois team took aggressive steps from the outset of the litigation to streamline our clients’ defense, including motion practice to consolidate multiple actions before one judge, obtain dismissals of cases on procedural grounds and noncompliance with discovery directives, and delineate to the court and parties the objective evidence distinguishing our clients’ liability position relative to the co-defendants in order to create the optimal setting for expeditious and favorable resolutions. The team launched aggressive discovery and investigation strategies, which included early identification, acquisition and analysis of medical records, scientific research, and epidemiological data to assess, mitigate, or eliminate liability and damages exposure.
The team also assembled a powerhouse of experts comprised of the nation’s leading authorities in Legionella, genetic testing (including polymerase chain reaction, or PCR testing), pathogenic bacteria, community outbreaks, water sanitization, infectious diseases, and pulmonology. The team worked closely with federal and state agencies to obtain official reports, documents, and testing data related to the outbreak investigation from the Centers for Disease Control, New York State Department of Health, NYS DOH Laboratories, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and various hospitals, which enabled them to accurately evaluate and objectively refute specific causation and liability in various cases.
Since the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, New York City and the world have met an exponentially greater public health emergency with the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a reinvigorated commitment to utilizing science and medicine as guideposts for keeping individuals, businesses, and environments safe while operational.
As we continue to emerge from the health crisis, Lewis Brisbois' attorneys – like professionals across every industry – are increasingly focused on developing strategies, solutions, and initiatives using life sciences, healthcare, and medical knowledge and resources. We recognize that they are profoundly important in formulating risk management strategies and providing meaningful representation of our clients confronting claims arising from large scale public health and medical emergencies.
Ms. Yuen, Mr. Whiteley, and their teams regularly handle matters involving catastrophic accidents and injuries, community and facility-based disease outbreaks, food service and safety, food and environmental contamination, medical and healthcare services, and complex medical issues. They welcome any inquiries related to the management of these claims.