12 sue Organigram over 2019 legionnaires' disease outbreak

·3 min read
Lawsuits have been filed against Organigram after its Moncton cannabis production facility was the source of a legionnaires' disease outbreak in 2019.  (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)
Lawsuits have been filed against Organigram after its Moncton cannabis production facility was the source of a legionnaires' disease outbreak in 2019. (Shane Magee/CBC - image credit)

Twelve lawsuits have been filed against Moncton-based cannabis producer Organigram by people who say they became ill during a legionnaires' disease outbreak in 2019.

Eleven separate lawsuits were filed in Moncton's Court of Queen's Bench on June 30, and one was filed in February.

The cases allege Organigram was negligent in its operation of the cooling towers determined to be the source of the outbreak and didn't take adequate measures to reduce the risk of growth of the bacteria that causes the illness.

One statement of claim says the person was told by health officials they likely contracted the illness by breathing in the bacteria while driving on a highway near Organigram's plant.

The most recent lawsuits were filed by Halifax-based Wagners Law Firm on behalf of 11 of the 16 people who became ill with the severe form of pneumonia. All 16 survived, although the illness can be deadly.

CBC News has requested comment from Organigram.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

The outbreak was declared over in early September 2019, several weeks after cooling towers pinpointed as the source of the outbreak were cleaned and no new cases identified.

The province kept the source of the outbreak secret for more than a year, saying the location no longer posed a health risk to the public.

Several of those who became ill said they deserved to know where the illness originated.

Based on reporting by CBC News, the province changed its position and Organigram admitted its facility was the source of the outbreak.

"Organigram deeply regrets the impact of this incident on members of our community and their families last year," the company said in a statement in December 2020.

Cooling towers are components of large air-conditioning systems. Hot water is sprayed on plastic frames, causing heat loss. Water is collected at the bottom of the tower, which can become a breeding ground for legionella bacteria.

The bacteria are present in many natural waterways, but cooling towers have been pinpointed as the source for many outbreaks.

Cooling tower mist that contains the bacteria can be carried into the surrounding environment, where people breathe it in. The illness is contracted by inhaling that mist and does not spread person-to-person.

Public health officials have said regular maintenance of cooling towers can help prevent the buildup of legionella bacteria.

Pierre Fournier/CBC
Pierre Fournier/CBC

The cases allege Organigram had a duty of care to properly test and maintain its cooling towers. The cases also note that Organigram failed to announce the risk to the public in a timely manner.

The plaintiffs suing Organigram are Paul Richard, Robert Harvey, Jack Proud, Aaron McEachern, Martin Cormier, Shelly Cormier, Pierre Maillet, Richard Melanson, James Daley, Phyllis Hope, Tanya Jamieson-Smith and Claudette Lirette.

They either lived near, worked near, or travelled by the company's production facility before developing symptoms.

Proud, who spoke to CBC while still in hospital in 2019, lived at Peoples Park Tower, which is a short distance from Organigram's facility.

In his statement of claim, Proud says he became ill in August and wasn't discharged from hospital until Nov. 29, 2019.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

"Despite Mr. Proud's efforts, he was unable to regain his pre-legionnaire's disease health and was transferred out of rehab to a long-term care facility where he continues to reside," the claim states.

Maillet's claim states he "continues to have residual lung damage."

The lawsuits seek damages for "substantial psychological and personal injuries" resulting from Organigram's actions.

None of the allegations in the statements of claim have been tested in court.

There's no indication that the bacteria affected the company's products.

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