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Exposure to Legionella Bacteria - The Caskill Case

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The Caskill Case

Summary: Mr. Caskill was a Veteran and had served in the Army for 30 years, was married and had three sons. He lived in the suburbs north of Pittsburgh, and was very active in his community, work, and family, as well as in many veterans groups.

In 2012, Mr. Caskill was preparing to travel out of state to visit family, and noticed that his medication was low, and figured that he would need a refill before he left. He called his PCP at the VA Hospital in Oakland Pennsylvania, and asked if he could get a refill that day. The PCP stated that it was no problem, and that he should report to the office that morning, which he did. He went to his PCP’s office and picked up the prescription and went to the VA pharmacy to have the prescription filled.

While he was waiting to get the prescription filled, he and his wife had lunch at the VA Hospital, and he used the bathroom facilities, as well as the water fountains at the VA Hospital to take some of his other medications. Unbeknownst to him, at that time, there was an outbreak of Legionella bacteria in the water supply at the VA Hospital.

For years, the VA Hospital in Oakland, Pennsylvania had been at the forefront of Legionella bacteria treatment and testing, however, due to internal issues, the focus was changed from Legionella bacteria to other infectious agents. In addition, although outside consultants were retained to help maintain the water supply at the VA to kill the Legionella bacteria, a decision had been made to try to perform those functions internally with the maintenance staff who was ill-prepared to handle the task of Legionella maintenance in the water supply.

For several months, the Legionella bacteria flourished in the water system at the VA Hospital, causing periodic outbreaks. Throughout 2011 and 2012, the VA staff at the hospital in Oakland, Pennsylvania tried to contain the outbreaks, however, by September 2012, it became impossible and numerous individuals were being exposed to and became sick from the Legionella bacteria, including Mr. Caskill.

Mr. Caskill picked up his prescription, and traveled to the South to visit his family. The first few days, he felt fine, but then he started to experience some shortness of breath, and a slight fever. On the flight back home to Pittsburgh, he began to experience flulike symptoms, which got worse as the flight progressed. Once he arrived at home, his wife took him back to the VA Hospital where it was recognized that Mr. Caskill’s high fever, infection, and severe pneumonia were caused by the Legionella bacteria.

Mr. Caskill was kept as an inpatient at the Hospital for several days, where he was treated with antibiotics, however Mr. Caskill had also been taking medication for a rheumatoid arthritis type condition. Unfortunately, because he had a depressed immune system as a result of the legionnaire bacteria, he could no longer take the medication for the arthritis, and began experiencing pain as a result.

The treatment for the legionnaire pneumonia and his immunosuppressed condition, left him in a state where he was no longer able to take the proper medication, and must live with pain that is not as controllable, for the rest of his life.

Mr. Caskill retained our firm because we had been deeply involved in the initial investigation of The VA Hospital and its administrators’ role in the legionella outbreak. Our firm had filed suit on behalf of other verterans who incurred illness and death as a result of the legionella outbreak.

We initiated an administrative claim on behalf of Mr. Caskill against the United States of America as the representative of the Veterans Administration. That administrative claim cold not be settled out of court and so we eventually filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against the United States of America and Veterans Administration, pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

We retained the courtry’s formost expert in legionella bacteria as a consultant in the case. After the initial discovery was exchanged and reviewed by the parties and further discovery was pursued, we were able to eventually settle Mr. Caskill’s cause of action for a substantial sum.