The Guest House at Graceland

A Kentucky family filed a lawsuit September 7 against The Guest House at Graceland after one of four family members infected with Legionnaires’ disease died, according to multiple news reports. The four family members were infected after staying at the hotel in Memphis, TN.

Linda “Gail” Godsey, 62, of Breathitt County, KY, died from the effects of Legionnaires’ disease on June 21, the same day she was hospitalized. She was suffering from fever, respiratory problems, headaches, nausea, and diarrhea before entering the hospital.

The other family members – Godsey’s sister, niece, and daughter – were sickened with related symptoms but recovered after staying at the hotel between June 10-13.

The wrongful death lawsuit alleges that The Guest House at Graceland was negligent and did not properly maintain its water system, which led to the outbreak. Along with The Guest House at Graceland, LLC, also named in the suit were Elvis Presley Enterprises, LLC; Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., and Pyramid Tennessee Management, LLC.

The outbreak at The Guest House, which infected nine people between May 15 and June 26, was reported by the Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) eight days after Godsey’s passing. The SCHD did not mention her passing at the time.

The hotel’s aquatic facilities, including the swimming pool and hot tub, were temporarily closed after the health department found traces of Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease. The SCHD allowed the aquatic facilities to reopen in July after extensive cleaning and testing returned negative results for Legionella.

Kenneth Dawson, Jr., and his wife, Linda Dawson, residents of Shelby County, filed a separate lawsuit in August against the hotel after Mr. Dawson was hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease from June 18 to July 15. While hospitalized, he was intubated with a ventilator for several weeks in the intensive care unit. The couple stayed at the hotel June 11-13 and used the pool and hot tub facilities on June 12.

CDC: About 25,000 cases of Legionnaires’ annually

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur in the United States on a yearly basis. However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s non-specific signs and symptoms.

Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which thrive in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments, such as cooling towers, air-conditioning systems, hot tubs, and spas, to name a few.

Complications of Legionnaires’ disease

After Legionnaires’ disease is diagnosed, hospitalization is often required. In the most severe cases, complications can include respiratory failure, kidney failure, septic shock, or even death.

Anyone can get the disease, but those at the greatest risk include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers (current or former)
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • individuals with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems.