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Legionnaires’ Disease; Yes It’s Still Around
Elliot Olsen has been representing clients who are victims of Legionnaires’ disease and foodborne illness for nearly 20 years. He takes cases at Siegel Brill from clients all across the country.
Below are some questions that we asked Elliot regarding Legionnaires’ disease and his practice.
How many cases of Legionnaires' disease are reported in the U.S.?
One of the things that is striking about these cases is how many there are per year, even though many people think it is a disease that has “gone away” similar to polio or measles. It is still around and is more common that people think.
The case numbers for Legionnaires’ disease have been on the rise since the year 2000. This could be due to the frequency of the disease, because there is an aging population and they are at greater risk, or it could be due to increased and more exact testing for Legionnaires' disease.
According to the CDC, in 2015 there were 6,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States. Because the disease is often undiagnosed, this number is most probably significantly lower than the true incidence.
Is there a recent example of a Legionnaires' outbreak locally in the Twin Cities?
In August/September of 2016 there was an outbreak in Hopkins. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the people affected got sick from a cooling tower at a company called Citrus Systems, Inc.
As a result of the outbreak, 23 people were sickened and one person died. All of them lived, worked in, or were just visiting the city of Hopkins. A frightening aspect of this disease is that many of these victims were simply “passing by.” In other words the victims did not necessarily work at Citrus Systems but were made ill because the cooling tower “aerosolized” the bacteria in water droplets and spread them over a large geographic area. Anyone that inhaled those droplets had the potential to become ill.
CLICK HERE TO READ A STORY FROM MPR ABOUT THE HOPKINS OUTBREAK
How is Legionnaires' disease detected and linked to a certain location?
Because of the advanced testing technologies now available, Legionnaires' disease can be traced to a specific site. The disease was first detected in 1978 during the outbreak in Philadelphia for which it was originally named. At that time, outbreaks had to be quite large for officials to be able to identify the source.
Today, health department officials can detect smaller outbreaks with very advanced detection methods. The protocol for an outbreak includes isolating the Legionella bacteria from people that have become sick by testing their sputum. The labs then do genetic fingerprinting on the bacteria to subtype it. Further genetic testing on the bacteria isolated from the water in the cooling towers can provide the genetic fingerprinting needed to match the source with the person infected.
In the local Hopkins outbreak, the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed that the Citrus Systems cooling tower was the source of the outbreak. In post-field testing the bacterial isolates from water in the cooling tower were further analyzed using genetic testing. It was subsequently determined that the DNA fingerprint was an exact match to the patients with Legionnaires’ disease.
NEW YORK CITY/BRONX:
In a recent outbreak in the Bronx in New York City, the Health Department took water samples from over 100 cooling towers in the area. When the cooling tower samples tested positive for Legionella pneumophila, the Department of Health performed further genetic testing and matched the water sample results to Legionella bacteria isolated from specific victims.
Can you give an example of a case you are working on currently?
I do have a case that I am currently working on with a client in the Bronx. A number of people were made ill from the cooling tower at the Opera House Hotel. My client was not a guest at the hotel but was just a passerby in the area visiting his brother and doing some shopping. He inhaled the bacteria from the cooling tower and was stricken with Legionnaires’ disease.
CLICK HERE for more information on this outbreak.
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Why You Should Care About Making Your Facility Accessible and Free of Architectural Barriers
If you operate a business in Minnesota, there is a strong likelihood that your business is subject to the accessibility and architectural requirements under federal and state law. Over the past 25 years, the various laws and regulations governing accessibility have changed. In recent years, hundreds of Minnesota businesses have been sued by plaintiffs alleging architectural barrier violations under federal and state law. The allegations frequently involve minor infractions that can be resolved without much expense or the business owner is unaware that it has valid defenses. As a business owner, it is important to know your rights and responsibilities so that persons with disabilities can have full and equal access to your business and so that you can protect against needless litigation.
THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990
President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”) into law on July 26, 1990. The ADA covers a broad range of issues, including discrimination in employment as well as construction and accessibility. Accessibility in the construction of facilities, which is the focus of this article, is covered in Article III of the ADA.
Businesses Covered under Title III of the ADA
A large majority of businesses are subject to Title III of the ADA. Businesses that are subject to the requirements of Title III of the ADA include those businesses that are “public accommodations” or “commercial facilities". A business is considered to be a “public accommodation” under the ADA if it is a private entity that affects commerce and it operates in at least one of the 12 specified industries, which include places of lodging, establishments serving food or drink, places of public gathering, bakeries, grocery stores, places of education, and places of exercise or recreation. 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7). A business is a “commercial facility” if it is non-residential and its operations will affect commerce. 42 U.S.C. § 12181(2). Therefore, most businesses are covered under Title III of the ADA.
2010 Standards for Accessible Design and Related Guidance
The initial regulations relating to the construction and accessibility requirements under the ADA were set forth in the 1991 Standards for Accessible Design (the “1991 Standards”). After the ADA was amended in 2010, the 1991 Standards were replaced with the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design (the “2010 Standards”). The Department of Justice compiled guidance on the 2010 Standards that provide additional instruction on the various regulations imposed by the 2010 Standards. The 2010 Standards and related guidance can be found here.
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