Lawsuit filed in Elmore Co. Legionnaires disease cases

Published: Aug. 15, 2014 at 2:37 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 21, 2014 at 11:45 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A federal lawsuit has been filed against an Elmore County hotel after attorneys for several members of a softball team say their clients got sick from a dangerous bacteria after a weekend stay.

The Montgomery-based law firm Beasley Allen filed the suit against Choice Hotels International, Inc., which owns and operates the Sleep Inn & Suites in Millbrook on Cobbs Ford Road.

The suit is being filed on behalf of two Jefferson County families, the Wheats and Rentas.

The suit says the clients, Clayton and Adriane Wheat and their daughter and Tony and Julie Renta and their daughter, along with other members of the Birmingham Lady Giants softball team (11-13 years old) got sick after returning home to Jefferson County after the tournament.

[Document: Lawsuit against Choice Hotels International (.pdf)]

"We know that the water quality at the Sleep Inn in Millbrook was inadequate and that as a result of that, several people acquired Legionella or Legionella-related diseases," said Beasley Allen attorney Ben Locklar.

Locklar said the family members were staying at the hotel and/or spent time in or around the indoor pool and hot tub.

"They're a group of people who went with their little girls to a softball tournament and they're living their lives and going about an activity that their family enjoys and they come down to a hotel and just like the rest of us, we expect if you're going to make the swimming pool available to us, that you make sure that the water quality is adequate," Locklar added.

Clayton Wheat was admitted to a hospital in Birmingham and spent several days there, including time in intensive care, the lawsuit indicated.

Several members of the softball team group were tested for Legionnaires diseases and at least three have tested positive for the disease, Locklar said. Legionnaire's disease is a severe respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Legionella.

The lawsuit alleges negligence by the hotel and the plaintiffs are seeking damages for medical bills and loss of income for the adults as well as for mental anguish, pain and suffering.

[READ MORE: Visiting athletes, parents sickened by Legionella bacteria in Elmore Co.]

Dr. Mary McIntryre, state epidemiologist, confirmed that the Alabama Department of Public Health is investigating an outbreak in Elmore County after being flooded with calls following the tournament, which happened in the second week of July.

She confirmed that out of a group of more than 40 people who had traveled together for the tournament, 14-16 people got sick and three people tested positive for Legionella.

ADPH said it is working to pinpoint exactly where the bacterium originated. While health officials said there is a common link between those sickened and an Elmore County hotel, they did not name the specific hotel.

Dr. McIntrye said environmental tests were being done on water samples from hotel, which would include samples from the hotel's pool and hot tub per ADPH procedure. On Thursday, she indicated that all of the initial tests had come back negative for the bacteria.

The state's investigation is ongoing and it could take six months to a year for a final report, she told WSFA 12 News.

Locklar said the test results don't change things when it comes to the lawsuit.

"We're absolutely certain of the source of the bacteria," he said.

Mike Patel, general manager of the Sleep Inn in Millbrook, says he has not received any documentation or reports from the state health department or anyone else regarding the illnesses but confirmed that the Elmore County Health Department and the ADPH had taken water samples from the hotel pool.

According to Patel, he received calls from two former guests several days after their stays who claimed they were sick. He pointed out that the guests did not mention any problems at checkout and that they could have been to numerous other locations in the time frame between when they checked out and when they notified him.

Patel believes the former guests are "just looking for money."

He says pool maintenance is done three times a week at the hotel and that dozens have been using the pool without any other reports of illnesses. Patel indicated that he would be meeting with his attorney Friday.

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