Family of VA's Legionella victim sues government
Attorneys for the widow of a World War II veteran brought a wrongful death complaint on Friday against the federal government, alleging reckless disregard for patients in a Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the Pittsburgh VA.
“I'm not (implying) necessarily an evil motive, but the conduct reflected a lack of caring,” said Downtown-based attorney Harry S. Cohen. “I don't think anyone wants these types of events to happen.”
He represents Greta M. Nicklas, 81, of Hampton, whose husband, William E. Nicklas, 87, was among five fatalities that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tied to an outbreak from February 2011 to November 2012.
The CDC traced the problem to bacteria-contaminated water at the Oakland and O'Hara campuses of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. At least 21 patients probably or definitely acquired the illness, a severe form of pneumonia, inside the health system, according to CDC findings.
The Nicklas complaint seeks $8 million under charges of wrongful death, infliction of emotional distress and additional violations.
A VA attorney recently suggested negotiations but did not offer specifics, Cohen said.
Pittsburgh VA spokesman David Cowgill said the agency could not comment on pending litigation. A national VA spokesman said he was looking into the matter.
The Nicklases' sons said in December that the family planned to sue and had initiated a preliminary claim. Federal officials had six months to investigate and respond before the family could formalize a full civil complaint in U.S. District Court. Cohen said the government did not respond to the initial claim.
The Nicklas complaint appears to be the first complete lawsuit filed in connection with the outbreak, although Cohen and other civil attorneys said they hope to file more.
Collectively, they indicated having filed at least four other preliminary claims over fatal and non-fatal cases during the outbreak, with more claims possible. Attorneys said their clients want to protect other veterans from meeting the same fate.
“I still think my brother would have had a lot more life left to him if he had not contracted that infection,” said Sandy Riley, 61, of Swissvale. She instigated a claim over the Legionnaires'-linked death of her brother, Lloyd “Mitch” Wanstreet, 65, of Jeannette and hopes to inspire some accountability, she said.
“These things never should have happened if they had maintained their systems properly,” Riley said.
The Nicklas complaint echoes that argument and makes several others, claiming the VA failed to control Legionella bacteria that cause the disease. The VA failed to give William Nicklas appropriate treatment and to test patients adequately for Legionnaires' disease, among many failures, according to the lawsuit.
Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Man dies in jump from Route 130 overpass onto passing tractor-trailer in Hempfield
- Starkey: Penguins’ season impressive so far
- Penguins a love affair for Evancho sisters
- Chick’s Bar in McKeesport catches fire
- Firefighter hurt in 3-alarm fire at Jefferson Hills restaurant
- Hornqvist’s net-front presence with Penguins could be valuable asset
- None hurt in Duquesne house fire
- Pirates’ search for division title rests on starting rotation’s health
- Singer Joni Mitchell hospitalized in Los Angeles
- Consol Energy files for IPO of coal spin-off
- 117-year-old woman dies in Japan; U.S. woman now oldest person on Earth