A $100 million lawsuit has been filed against McLaren Flint hospital and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on behalf of four patients who allegedly contracted Legionnaires' disease while being treated at the hospital.
The plaintiffs in the case (PDF) say they contracted the bacterial pneumonia shortly after being treated at McLaren Flint between 2014 and 2015. In mid-2014 Flint changed its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, whose water is now understood to be so corrosive that it leached unsafe levels of lead from the city's water pipes.
They say Michigan's health department didn't alert the public soon enough about the hospital's Legionnaires' disease outbreak, and the hospital failed to protect its patients against the bacteria.
The case was filed in Genesee County Circuit Court, which has jurisdiction over Flint. The hospital, part of 10-hospital McLaren Health Care Corp., declined to comment due to the pending litigation, but Don Kooy, president of the facility, previously said he was surprised that state and local health officials didn't inform the public about a Legionnaires' outbreak in Genesee County in 2014 and 2015.
A spokesman for Gov. Snyder said “it would be inappropriate to discuss pending litigation.”
At least 87 Legionnaires' cases, including nine deaths, were confirmed across Genesee County during a 17-month period, though officials say it's unclear whether the city's water supply was to blame. An expert hired by McLaren said the change in Flint's water quality was a “likely factor” in causing the increase in Legionnaires' cases in Genesee County.
Individuals can contract the disease from inhaling mist or vapor from water infrastructure and cooling systems that have been contaminated with Legionella bacteria, which thrives in warm water. McLaren Flint spent over $300,000 on a water treatment system and began using bottled water for patients.
The four plaintiffs in the case are Connie Taylor, Brian Kelsey, Larry Balknight and Troy Kidd, the son of Debbie Kidd, who died of Legionnaires' disease in August. They're represented by Geoffrey Fieger, a Southfield, Mich.-based attorney.
“A hospital won't make money if it discloses a Legionnaires' outbreak from contaminated water, and a governor will stop hearing whispers that he's being considered for higher office if he reveals a water and Legionnaires' crisis. We know what happened here,” Fieger said in a statement. “The more I read and learn about this, the angrier I get. To save a few dollars, the Snyder administration poisoned an entire city and thought they could get away with it because those poisoned were poor and primarily black.”
Because McLaren didn't notify patients until recently, it's unclear how many patients contracted Legionnaires' disease, Fieger said in an interview Thursday. “They have to clean the water, and they had to alert the public. They kept it quiet.”