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Legionnaires' Disease and Hot Tubs.

We recently began representation of a client who contracted Legionnaires' disease from a health club hot tub. Our office previously represented a senior who had contracted the disease from a decorative fountain at his apartment complex. Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of pneumonia usually caused by a bacterium known as legionella. According to the CDC each year, 8,000–18,000 people in the United States are hospitalized with Legionnaires' disease. Legionnaires' disease is usually treated successfully with antibiotics, but can sometimes cause respiratory failure, septic shock, acute kidney failure, and even death. Certain groups of people are more likely to become seriously ill when infected with Legionella: Individuals who are 50 years of age or older; Smokers; People with chronic lung disease; and Individuals with weakened immune systems.

Legionella is naturally found in water, especially warm water.Hot tubs (or spas) that are not cleaned and disinfected enough can become contaminated with Legionella. A person can get infected with Legionella when they breathe in steam or mist from a contaminated hot tub. Legionella can also be found in cooling towers, plumbing systems, and decorative pools or fountains.Legionella is not spread from one person to another.

Because high water temperatures make it hard to maintain the disinfectant levels needed to kill germs like Legionella, making sure that the hot tub has the right disinfectant and pH levels is essential. According to the CDC here are some things you can do to determine whether a hot tub has been properly maintained: Purchase pool test strips at your local home improvement or pool supply store (be sure to check the expiration date). Use the test strips to check hot tub water for free chlorine (2–4 parts per million [ppm]) or bromine (4–6 ppm) and pH (7.2–7.8) levels.If you find improper chlorine, bromine, and/or pH levels, tell the hot tub operator or owner immediately. You should also ask your health club or hot tub operator the following:What was the most recent health inspection score for the hot tub? Are disinfectant and pH levels checked at least twice per day? Are disinfectant and pH levels checked more often when the hot tub is being used by a lot of people? Are the following maintenance activities performed regularly: Removal of the slime or biofilm layer by scrubbing and cleaning? Replacement of the hot tub water filter according to manufacturer's recommendations?

When members are injured at a health club, the club typically attempts to defend the case by invoking the membership agreement which generally contains an exculpatory clause that purports to immunize the club from claims of negligence which result in injury arising out of the use of their premises.However, for the clause to apply the injury sustained must be one that falls within scope of possible dangers of using a health club, and be one that is reasonably contemplated by the member when signing up. In Larsen vs. Vic Tanney International, 130 Ill.App.3d 574, 474 N.E.2d 729, the court refused to extend as a matter of law the scope of the exculpatory clause to include injury to a plaintiff's respiratory system caused by inhalation of vapors from hydrochloric acid that were emitted by cleaning chemicals used by the club.The court stated that any assertion that the member would necessarily contemplate the danger of the cleaning chemicals being mixed in a negligent manner by the club was "untenable according to the standards of common experience."Likewise, it follows that contracting Legionnaires' disease from an improperly maintained hot club is not a risk or danger that any member contemplates when they sign up.

For more information on preventing illness and injury at the pool and hot tub, visit www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming.For further instructions on how to use pool and hot tub test strips, visit www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/protec­tion/hot-tub-user-tips-actsheet.html

For guidelines and resources on how to prevent Legionella and other germs from contaminating the water, visit www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/ audience-aquatics-staff.html.

For any questions feel free to contact our office.


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