Geneva man sues Batavia’s Holmstad over Legionnaires’ disease, seeks more than $50K

Lawsuit alleges 2019 outbreak was result of facility not cleaning or maintaining its water system

BATAVIA – A Geneva man who lives less than a half-mile from the Holmstad in Batavia is suing the senior living facility, alleging he contracted Legionnaires’ disease from contaminated vapor released from its cooling tower because of the company’s negligence in not properly maintaining and cleaning its water system.

The 42-page lawsuit, which names Covenant Living at the Holmstad as the defendant, was filed June 14 in Kane County by Terry Irvin, 70, of Geneva. It seeks a jury trial and more than $50,000 in damages.

In an email, Executive Director Julio Macias said “Covenant Living at the Holmstad is aware of the lawsuit filed against the community. Because the matter is in litigation, we are unable to provide any comment regarding any allegations within the lawsuit.”

Attorneys Tariq Miller of Pritzker Hageman in Minnesota and Zachary Hofeld of Kaveny + Kroll in Chicago alleged in the lawsuit that Irvin was one of two community members and a dozen elderly Holmstad residents who contracted Legionnaires’ disease during an outbreak in August and September 2019, in which 14 people were sickened and required hospitalization, including Irvin.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the Legionella bacteria, which can cause a serious type of pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria can grow in human-made building water systems – including cooling towers – and spreads in water droplets small enough for people to breathe in, according to the CDC.

“Despite being required to regularly inspect the cooling tower for cleanliness and leaks, and being told twice [by the Illinois Department of Public Health] before the outbreak that the cooling tower required cleaning and had bacteria, there are no records indicating that Covenant Living ever conducted any further cleaning or inspection of the cooling tower,” according to the lawsuit. “Covenant Living was aware of the risks posed by its cooling tower as early as May of 2019. A cooling tower report from May 2, 2019, notes ‘tower has micro dirt in basin’ and ‘must remove via bleed or manual clean.’ ”

Conditions inside cooling towers “are ideal for Legionella [bacteria] growth, and cooling towers can discharge water vapor or mist containing the bacteria into the environment,” according to the lawsuit.

“Terry Irvin would drive by [the Holmstad] every day on his way to work,” Miller said.

On Sept. 7, 2019, Irvin went to Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva with a fever, cough, weakness, headaches and shivers after feeling sick and lethargic a few days earlier, and his condition did not improve, according to the suit.

On Sept. 11, 2019, Irvin tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease, and the IDPH confirmed his case was one of the Holmstad Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, according to the suit. Irvin’s condition was complicated by a C. difficile infection, a bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhea.

Irvin then was placed at the Grove of Fox Valley Rehabilitation Center in Aurora from Sept. 17 to 24, according to the suit.

As a result of being sickened in the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak, Irvin has physical and emotional injuries, medical bills and will incur future medical costs, and he has had a loss of income and future earning, according to the suit.

The filing also details financial information about Covenant Living, a nonprofit with 16 facilities that provide independent living, assisted living, skilled, rehabilitation and home and community-based services. Covenant Living was the 37th largest operator of senior housing in the U.S. as of June 1, 2020.

Covenant Living houses about 5,000 residents, with about 500 at the Batavia facility, according to the suit.

Its revenue for the fiscal year ending Sept 30, 2020, was more than $356 million. It listed more than $1.2 billion in assets, does not pay taxes and received more than $16.7 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the lawsuit.

In January 2020, the DuPage County Health Department announced an investigation into an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at Covenant Living at Windsor Park in Carol Stream, in which two residents died, according to the suit.