Angela and Bruce Wise are seeking more than $100,000 in past and future medical expenses plus punitive damages. The 14-page complaint filed in Rabun County Superior Court also cited Bruce’s loss of companionship due to his ailing wife.
The couple checked into room 418 on July 22 and stayed two days. They alleged that the room had a damp and musty odor and that the tub was turned on, causing the water to become aerosolized.
“The plumbing and spa tub environment was of such type and character as to create a reasonably foreseeable risk of the growth, promotion, cultivation and presence of legionella bacteria in the consumable spa tub water,” said the complaint filed by Savannah lawyer Richard Middleton.
The Dillard House owner John Dillard Sr. said he had doubts about the validity of the complaint and defended the condition of his amenities.
“We are doing everything the state of Georgia and the Rabun County Health Department require us to do on these spas,” Dillard said. “We actually had an inspection on this one last week, and there were no problems found.”
The complaint states that the day after the Wises checked out, they both began suffering from flu-like symptoms. Bruce’s symptoms got better within a few days, but Angela’s condition apparently got worse. She was treated for dehydration July 30 but still felt weak and ill. Within 24 hours of her admission to Athens Regional Medical Center, her urine tested positive for legionella bacteria, according to the complaint.
Angela, 68, was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease on Aug. 2 and was transferred to intensive care, where she was placed on life support, the complaint states. On Aug. 18, she went to a rehabilitation hospital and was later readmitted to intensive care at Athens Regional Medical Center for a bleeding duodenal ulcer, which developed from her being on life support, it continues. The exposure to legionella caused her recent outbreak of lupus, the complaint alleges.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia, and older people, smokers and those with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to its affects, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The plaintiffs claim The Dillard House and its owner, John Dillard Sr., had knowledge of “dangerously unsanitary conditions of guestrooms.”
Middleton was the lawyer who represented the family of Stuart Hecht, formerly of Jacksonville, Fla., in a federal wrongful death lawsuit. Hecht died in August 2008, a month after he and his daughter sat in a hot tub in Eddie’s Cabin at The Dillard House. Hecht’s family agreed to a $2.4 million settlement in April 2010. Middleton and the Hecht family claimed that Stuart died from Legionnaires’ disease, but The Dillard House denied any liability in his death.
Middleton also cited the case of Theresa Marie Berrios of Longwood, Fla., who sued The Dillard House in December 2009 claiming she contracted Legionnaires’ disease after a stay two years earlier in a chalet. That lawsuit was dismissed in April 2010 on a joint motion.
Dillard said the plaintiff in the most recent case became sick with other symptoms, including a bleeding ulcer.
“You know, at this stage, we’re not certain at all that this thing has any merit,” he said. He said he thought it was unusual for one person to become ill. “So we’re not certain at all that she was exposed to anything at this stage.”
Dillard said the claims made by the plaintiffs were under investigation. He also said the lawsuit was a “tactic this particular attorney uses.”
Dillard said that to the best of his knowledge the plaintiffs have not called local or state health department officials about their claims. According to him, when someone gets sick, he or she usually calls The Dillard House to complain.
“I find it very strange they didn’t do that,” he said.