Former detainee sues correctional facility for allegedly causing Legionnaires outbreak

By Kasey Schefflin-Emrich | Jun 24, 2015

HARRISBURG - A former inmate is suing several employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and a company responsible for maintaining the air conditioning units at a medium-security correctional facility where he was incarcerated, claiming that he and more than 60 other detainees were infected with Legionnaires' disease because of improper sanitation of those units.

Raymond Bernard filed a lawsuit June 17 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against State Correctional Institution at Somerset, Superintendent Gerald Rozum, SCI-Somerset Facilities Management Deputy Superintendent Daniel Gehlmann, as well as five unidentified individuals and a private corporation hired to maintain the air conditioning units at SCI-Somerset, citing violation of constitutional rights and state law, and negligence.

According to the complaint, Bernard and others who were in custody of SCI-Somerset either contracted or experienced symptoms of legionella pneumonia in 2013. The suit states that outbreak of legionella pneumonia was the result of the defendants failure to properly sanitize and maintain the facility's air conditioning units.

The corporation is faulted with negligence as it was specifically hired to remove bacterial contagion that often colonize air conditioning units, the suit says.

The suit alleges that the SCI-Somerset officials and the employees responsible for sterilizing the units violated Bernard's Eighth Amendment rights as he was incarcerated in conditions that would pose a threat to his health and safety. Additionally, the defendants violated state law as they failed to ensure the institution doesn't exhibit conditions that could possibly harm those in it, the suit says.

Bernard claims he became severely ill with legionella pneumonia around July 20, 2013, and suffered and continues to suffer psychological pain, humiliation and mental anguish.

The plaintiff seeks compensation damages for himself and others similarly situated in the amount to be determined by a jury or/and court, plus attorney fees and costs of suit.

The plaintiff is represented by attorney Elmer Robert Keach, III of the Law Offices of Elmer Robert Keach, III, PC in Albany, N.Y., and attorney D. Aaron Rihn of Robert Peirce & Associates, P.C. in Pittsburgh.

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania case number: 3:15-cv-00167-KRG-KAP.

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