2010-02-18 / Features

Ohio State Pays $1.2M Over Legionnaires' Death

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio State University has agreed to pay $1.2 million to a woman whose husband drank from a medical center water faucet, contracted Legionnaires' disease and died.

The settlement ends a lawsuit filed by the man's wife, Sharron Morris, who said legal action was the only way she could call attention to the problem.

“It does not make up for his life,” Morris said Friday. “We miss him.”

Her husband, David Morris, 66, of Lima, died in April 2007, five months after drinking water out of a sink faucet at the Ohio State Medical Center. He was being treated for leukemia and drank water to wash down medication.

Nurses and other staff at the hospital knew water on the ninth floor could contain the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' but did not warn patients, according to the lawsuit.

“Instead they just handed out bottled water, but didn’t specifically instruct patients not to drink the water nor did they have any signs saying not to drink the water,” said David Shroyer, an attorney for the Morris family.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by bacteria that grow in water. Its symptoms are like those with pneumonia.

David Crawford, a spokesman for the medical center, said the settlement is fair and compensates the family for their loss. The hospital has safeguards in place and the risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease is extremely low, he said.

Dr. Andrew Thomas, associate medical director at Ohio State, said the university installed special filters on some sinks and ice machines in March 2007 to protect from Legionella bacteria, which is a common risk in older buildings with big plumbing systems.

“It’s hard to eradicate,” Thomas said. He said the medical center also is planning to add a system that would inject chlorine gas into the water to reduce the risk of the bacteria.

He said it is difficult to determine where anyone picks up the bacteria. Two other Ohio State patients have had Legionnaires' since the Morris case and possibly contracted it in the hospital. Both of them died of other medical problems, he said.

Thomas said nurses now instruct patients not to drink the tap water.

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