A woman from the United Kingdom filed a lawsuit after contracting Legionnaires’ disease while staying at The Guest House at Graceland in Memphis, TN, according to news reports.

Jennifer Walker of West Yorkshire, England, is one of nine hotel guests who contracted the deadly respiratory illness after lodging at The Guest House over the summer. Walker stayed at the facility June 12-13 and spent much of her visit around the hotel and pool area. She began experiencing symptoms June 19 after returning home, and she required a neighbor to call an ambulance June 25 after becoming delirious. She was hospitalized for a week and a half, during which time she was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.

The pool area was temporarily closed in late June by the Shelby County Health Department after testing indicated elevated levels of Legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires’ disease.

Walker’s lawsuit, filed in October, listed Guest House at Graceland LLC, Pyramid Hotel Group LLC, Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc., Pyramid Tennessee Management LLC, and Memphis Pool as defendants. Walker is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as legal costs, but no specific dollar amount was listed.

The lawsuit alleges there was a failure to properly maintain the hotel water systems, pool, hot tub, and sprinkler system, as well as a failure to properly train and supervise employees responsible for those areas.

Third lawsuit to be filed

Two additional lawsuits were filed earlier this year:

  • A Kentucky family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in September after one of four family members infected with Legionnaires’ disease died. Linda (Gail) Godsey, 62, of Breathitt County, KY, died from the effects of Legionnaires’ on June 21, the same day she was hospitalized. 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 and 13.
  • Kenneth Dawson, Jr., and his wife, Linda Dawson, residents of Shelby County, TN, who stayed at the hotel June 11-13, filed a separate suit in August against the hotel after Mr. Dawson was hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease from June 18 to July 15. While hospitalized, he was intubated and on machine ventilation for several weeks in intensive care.

Legionnaires’ illnesses increasing

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia or lung infection. It is “an emerging disease in the sense that the number of recorded cases of Legionnaires’ in the United States continues to increase,” said Laura Cooley, MD, MPH from the Respiratory Diseases Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Cooley said she believes the increase is due to a rise in the susceptibility of the population, with more and more people on immunosuppressive medications. In addition, there could be more Legionella in the environment, with warmer temperatures creating the right conditions for bacterial growth.

CDC: About 25,000 cases annually

The CDC estimates that 25,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease occur in the U.S. yearly. Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, 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 and air-conditioning systems, to name just a couple.

An American Cancer Society (ACS) patient died from complications of contracting Legionnaires’ disease at the ACS’ Hope Lodge in Manhattan in May 2015, according to a lawsuit filed in March. The patient was one of four who took ill with the disease while staying at the housing facility, numerous news sources reported.

Joan Pedersen, 62, had to stop being treated for brain cancer because of the Legionnaires’ disease, which weakened her and prevented her from continuing radiation and chemotherapy treatment. She recovered from the Legionnaires’ disease, but subsequently succumbed to the cancer in May 2015.

According to the lawsuit, the ACS “refused” to install a long-term water-disinfection system for its water supply for months after the Department of Health recommended it do so in late 2015. The ACS finally installed the system in April 2016.

The Hope Lodge provides free housing for cancer patients and their families, who must travel for treatment. There are 30 Hope Lodge locations throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.