Families of Legionnaires’ disease victims to sue companies involved in outbreak

Elaine Russell, a partner at Irwin Mitchell

The families of those who died in an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Edinburgh are suing the firms they believe are responsible.

Lawyers for the families have lodged claims against North British Distillery and Macfarlan Smith.

A report on the incident failed to determine the cause of the outbreak and prompted lawyers to call for further investigations.

NHS Lothian identified cooling towers in the south-west of the city as the most likely cause of the outbreak three years ago which resulted in 92 cases.

Sean Ferguson, John Lonnie, Bert Air and Sylvia Riddell all died after becoming infected with the disease.

Professor Alison McCallum, director of public health and health policy, NHS Lothian, said: “I would once again express my sincere condolences to the families of those who died during this outbreak and the patients affected.

“The review of outbreak management and the subsequent publichealth research has proved valuable in enhancing the existing knowledge on Legionella outbreaks and control.

“This report allows us to share our experience and findings with other public-health teams across the globe.”

However, Elaine Russell, a partner at Irwin Mitchell, who is representing the families of those affected by the outbreak, said: “While it is important that the response from NHS Lothian is acknowledged, we are still pushing the authorities for answers about what caused the outbreak and have repeatedly called for more information to be shared with the victims but our requests have been met with a wall of silence for years.

“Three years ago several people lost their life and almost 100 suffered from Legionnaires’ disease, yet the authorities seem no closer to identifying the source of the outbreak.”

The report noted that “although the incident management team could not establish the specific source of the organism, it has concluded that the most likely source of this aerosol release was an industrial complex containing wet cooling towers”.

Previously, the Crown Office said there was not enough evidence to pursue a prosecution as the source could not be identified precisely enough.

Following the probe, however, the Health and Safety Executive sent reports to the Crown Office relating to breaches of health and safety regulations unconnected to the four deaths.

As such, a number of companies will be prosecuted in connection with those breaches.

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