Montreal

Quebec City legionnaires' disease class action suit settled out of court

The lawyer for between 200 and 250 people affected by the 2012 outbreak of legionnaires' disease in Quebec City that killed 14 people said Monday a negotiated settlement to their class action suit avoids a "costly trial."

14 people died, many more infected in 2012 outbreak traced to building owned by CSQ labour federation

Solange Allen, whose husband was one of the first to die in the 2012 legionnaires' disease outbreak in Quebec City, was on hand Monday when her lawyer, Jean-Pierre Ménard, announced a negotiated settlement of the class action suit. (Radio-Canada)

The lawyer for between 200 and 250 people affected by the 2012 outbreak of legionnaires' disease in Quebec City that killed 14 people said Monday a negotiated settlement to their class action suit avoids a "costly trial." 

Announcing the deal today, Jean-Pierre Ménard would not give a dollar figure but said in addition to relatives of the 14 who died, victims who were treated in hospital and even people who were infected but did not go to hospital will receive some compensation.

The settlement still needs to be approved by the trial judge in the case.

"The court will approve the agreement," Ménard predicted, explaining that lawyers for all the defendants have accepted terms of the deal.

"All the victims will be satisfied," he said. "It is a good settlement."

Cooling towers on top of the CSQ labour federation building were the source of legionella bacteria that killed 14 and infected many more in the summer of 2012. (Kevin Dougherty/CBC)

For Solange Allen, whose 64-year-old husband, Claude Desjardins, was one of the first to die as a result of the outbreak, the settlement comes as a relief.

Recalling the ordeal of the 2013 coroner's inquest and the many "sleepless nights" she endured, Allen said the fact that there will be no trial means she won't have to "relive all that" again.

"So many died who should not have died," Allen said.

CSQ, contractors named as defendants

The source of the airborne legionella bacteria, which ultimately affected as many as 180 people, was eventually traced to cooling towers atop a building in Quebec City's Lower Town owned by the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), a labour federation representing teachers and other civil servants.

The CSQ, along with Quebec's public health authority, Trane Canada ULC — the contractor responsible for maintaining and inspecting the cooling towers — and State Chemical Ltd., the supplier of water treatment products, were all named as defendants in the class action suit.

Details of the settlement are to be presented to parties to the class action Monday night at a closed meeting, and terms of the agreement will made public on Oct. 5, after the trial judge gives his approval, Ménard said.

"It should be a formality," he said.

Ménard did not know what share each of the defendants would pay.

"That is up to them."

Expert witnesses were set to testify

Ménard said he was ready to go to trial, and in the course of negotiations, he brought in four expert witnesses — two of them from Scotland and England.

"We were ready for a trial," he said.

Still, Ménard said, he prefers having arrived at a negotiated settlement.

"Even with an excellent case we could still lose," Ménard said. "We are never certain with a trial."

Legionella, the bacteria that causes legionnaires' disease, can lead to a drug-resistant and often fatal form of pneumonia. (Janice Haney Carr/Centers for Disease Control/Associated Press)

Legionnaires' disease is named after a 1976 outbreak in which the bacteria was first identified, when delegates to an American Legion convention in Philadelphia came down with a then-unknown type of pneumonia that proved fatal and was resistant to drugs.

The bacteria, then named legionella, was traced to the hotel's air-conditioning system.