A metro Atlanta photographer filed a lawsuit Monday against the Sheraton Atlanta, saying the hotel’s “negligence in the operation and maintenance of the water systems” caused him and others to become ill with Legionnaires’ disease.
The hotel shut down voluntarily on July 15 after three people who stayed at or visited the hotel reported that they had been diagnosed with the Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia. Since then, state health authorities have confirmed 12 cases of the infection and say there are 64 probable cases. One death also has been attributed to complications from the bacteria that causes the respiratory ailment.
Authorities have not determined that the hotel is the source of the Legionella bacteria, but so far all of the cases involve guests or visitors to the hotel.
The lawsuit — which names the Arden Group and Arepii Sa Hotel, companies that own and manage the Sheraton Atlanta, and hotel general manager Ken Peduzzi as defendants — accuses the hotel of failing to either adopt or follow a water management plan to prevent the spread of the Legionella bacteria.
Most people get sick because they breathe in water droplets contaminated with bacteria found lurking in cooling towers, hot water tanks and condensers in large air-conditioning units. Pools and hot tubs also are sometimes sources of the disease. It is not spread by person-to-person contact.
Attorneys L. Chris Stewart and Matt Wetherington filed the lawsuit Monday in the State Court of Gwinnett County on behalf of Germany Greer, who was hired to photograph several events at a convention at the Sheraton Atlanta from June 27-July 1. The attorneys said they are representing more than 40 other clients — all of whom either have confirmed Legionnaires’ or a suspected case of the disease. The clients all stayed or visited the hotel between late June and early July.
Greer’s lawsuit asks for a jury trial and compensation for damages, including pain and suffering, lost wages and medical expenses related to Legionnaires’ disease.
In an emailed statement, Peduzzi, the general manager of the Sheraton, said the hotel doesn’t comment on legal matters.
Greer, who is 67, said he started feeling sick after spending several hours at a time over a six-day period at the Sheraton Atlanta. At first, food and water tasted weird to him, and he lost his appetite. Then, he felt fatigue and was delirious.
He tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease, according to the lawsuit.
“I slid down pretty fast,” he said at a media event Monday morning at the Stewart Trial Attorneys office in downtown Atlanta. “I couldn’t remember my name.”
Greer said he was hospitalized in the intensive care unit for four days and is still having bouts of fatigue and trouble functioning.
“My left leg is still not functioning properly,” he said.
The ever-growing Legionnaires’ outbreak is now considered the largest ever recorded in Georgia, according to the state Department of Public Health.
The Sheraton Atlanta will remain closed until at least Wednesday and possibly several weeks longer, depending on the test results and whether remediation is necessary. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has joined state health officials in their investigation into the source of the outbreak.
Last week, health authorities confirmed that Legionella played a role in the death of Cameo Garrett, a 49-year-old woman who attended a conference at the hotel in late June. While the Decatur woman died of coronary artery disease, DeKalb County Medical Examiner Pat Bailey said the bacteria was a contributing factor.
In a statement released last week, Peduzzio offered the Sheraton’s “deepest sympathies to all of those affected by the Legionella outbreak.”
He went on to say a “thorough cleaning of the hotel’s entire water distribution system has been completed as a precautionary measure, including cleaning, scrubbing and chlorination of all water features. At this time, we are awaiting additional testing results and we will complete a review of those results, as will the Georgia Department of Public Health.”
About 1 in 10 people who come down with Legionnaires’ disease die due to complications from the illness, the CDC said. People who are older than 50, have medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or diabetes, or have a history of smoking are the most likely to face complications.
The attorneys said most of their clients are older, have pre-existing conditions, such as cancer, or fall in both categories, making them particularly vulnerable to Legionnaires’ disease.
Stewart said he expects the Legionella bacteria source to be confirmed at the Sheraton Atlanta during the coming days. He and Wetherington also have asked to conduct independent testing.
“Over 40 people we talked to all got sick at the same place breathing in the same exact air and drinking the same exact water in the same enclosed environment,” he said.
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