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Orillia facing $2.6M lawsuit following 2022 legionella outbreak

Joseph Brabant's 'life expectancy has been significantly reduced as a result of his legionnaires' disease,' lawsuit claims
USED 2019-06-13 GM3
Rotary Place is shown in a file photo. | Dave Dawson/OrilliaMatters

A local man who allegedly suffered severe health consequences as a result of legionnaires’ disease has, along with his wife, filed a $2.6-million lawsuit against the City of Orillia and two private contractors.

On Sept. 28, 2022, Joseph Brabant began feeling ill at his home on Atlantis Drive, less than three kilometres away from Rotary Place, which was later shut down due to a legionella outbreak.

Several days later, when Brabant felt so ill that he could not stand upright, he was admitted to the Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital emergency department on Oct. 2, according to a statement of claim filed April 8 by Martin & Hillyer Associates.

“Emergency room staff noted … that Joseph was tachycardic, hypoxic, pyrexic and had word dyspnea,” the claim reads. “Joseph was also noted in hospital to be anxious, delirious, and he was unable to control his bowels or bladder.”

While in hospital, Brabant tested positive for legionnaires’ disease, became septic, and suffered acute kidney injury and atrial fibrillation as a result of his condition, with lingering effects continuing to the present day.

“As a result of the legionella outbreak and resulting illness, Joseph continues to suffer from … pain, depression, anxiety, lethargy, as well as decreased lung, heart and kidney function,” the claim reads. “Joseph’s life expectancy has been significantly reduced as a result of his legionnaires’ disease.”

The lawsuit alleges “that Joseph’s contraction of legionnaires’ disease and resulting injuries were caused solely by the negligence of the defendants.”

Following the outbreak, the city and officials from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit held a news conference on Nov. 8, 2022, announcing the source of the local legionella outbreak was the cooling tower at Rotary Place.

One person died as a result of the outbreak and dozens were hospitalized. The cooling tower at Rotary Place was also the source of a legionella outbreak in 2019.

Among 11 allegations levelled against the city, the lawsuit argues “the city failed to take reasonable care to prevent a second outbreak of legionella … which they saw or should have seen was likely to happen.”

The suit also alleges the following against the city:

  • They failed to have safety checklists to ensure airborne contaminants and diseases were not present within the cooling tower located within the sports complex, which exhausted out of the cooling tower and become airborne;
  • They failed to reasonably inspect or maintain the cooling tower to ensure they were free of contaminants and bacteria (including legionella bacteria), especially in light of the 2019 legionella outbreak, which also affected the cooling tower within the sports complex;
  • They failed to have a reasonable system of inspection and maintenance in place to ensure that the cooling tower (was) maintained so that (it was) reasonably safe;
  • They hired incompetent contractors to monitor, sanitize and/or maintain the cooling tower within the sports complex;
  • They hired incompetent contractors to test the cooling tower within the sports complex for the presence of legionella bacteria;
  • They failed to act upon any recommendations or advice given to them from contractors/third parties with respect to the maintenance, upkeep and/or cleaning of the subject cooling tower;
  • They failed to follow the recommendations and/or mandates of local health authorities as it relates to the prevention of legionella bacteria within the cooling tower;
  • They employed incompetent staff as it relates to any attempt to prevent legionella bacteria from developing within the cooling tower;
  • If they had a reasonable system of inspection and maintenance in place, which is denied, they failed to carry the system of inspection and maintenance out in a reasonable manner;
  • They failed to inform members of the public who were within close proximity to the sports complex of the dangerous situation, which they knew or ought to have known existed within the cooling tower, in particular the presence of high levels of legionella bacteria.

The lawsuit also outlines numerous allegations against Cooling Tower Maintenance Inc. and NCH Canada Inc. for, among other grievances, failing to “take reasonable care to prevent an outbreak of legionella, which they saw or should have seen was likely to happen.”

As a result, Joseph and Lindsay Brabant are seeking $2 million in “general and special damages,” $100,000 in damages pursuant to Section 61 of the Family Law Act, and $500,000 in “punitive, aggravated and exemplary damages.”

The Brabants’ lawyer is seeking compensation for not only the illness Joseph endured, but also the conditions that precipitated a second legionella outbreak and the lasting effects on both of their lives.

“The law recognizes that (Lindsay) has likely suffered injuries as a result, maybe not physical injuries, but she suffered a loss of income, emotional issues (and) loss of guidance, care and companionship,” said Meghan Walker, a lawyer with Martin & Hillyer Associates.

“We also have a claim for pain and suffering for Mr. Brabant’s future care costs as they will be anticipated, and then we’re also claiming punitive damages against the city for allowing this to happen twice now.”

Walker represents 11 clients tied to the 2019 and 2022 legionella outbreaks in Orillia, and she said the common thread among each of them is a desire for answers and justice.

“More than anything, what my clients have in common is they want answers, especially my 2022 clients. How did this happen for a second time at the same place?” she said.

“Most of my clients are still residents, so their second concern is how are we going to make sure this does not happen again? They want some justice … and answers, and a recognition that what happened to them should not have happened.”

None of the allegations have been tested in court.

City officials declined to provide comment for this story.

“As a standard practice, the city does not provide public comment regarding legal matters,” said Melissa Gowanlock, the city’s manager of communications.

This is the second lawsuit filed by Martin & Hillyer Associates against the city in relation to the 2022 legionella outbreak. The first one was filed following the 2022 death of David Palmer.

— With files from Dave Dawson

Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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