Fort Bend community linked to Legionnaires’ disease outbreak sued for $1 million
The lawsuit, filed by the family of Antoinette Marinchak, claims the owners, operaters and developers of Bonterra of Cross Creek Ranch were negligent in allowing Legionella bacteria to form at the community clubhouse.
The children of a Houston-area woman who died last month are suing the owners, operators and developers of a 55-and-older community in Fort Bend County, claiming their mother died from Legionnaires' disease after contracting it at a neighborhood clubhouse where the pool or other water systems were not properly treated.
Antoinette Marinchak, 76, was one of at least four people who became infected with Legionella bacteria last month after using the clubhouse facilities at Bonterra at Cross Creek Ranch in Fulshear, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in a Harris County district court. Marinchak was diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease June 12 and died June 28, and her children, Steven Marinchak and Marie Laughlin, are seeking "well in excess" of $1 million in damages, said Jory Lange, a Houston attorney representing the family.
Legionnaires' disease, or Legionellosis, is a serious type of pneumonia caused by breathing in small droplets of water containing Legionella bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This was completely preventable," Lange said. "This is a tragic death. If Bonterra had just properly maintained their water system, no one would have gotten sick."
The premise liability and wrongful death claim lists five Houston-area corporations as defendants – the Bonterra at Cross Creek Ranch Community Association, the Cross Creek Ranch Community Association, C.I.A. Services, LEAD Association Management and Johnson Development Corp., with the latter being a developer of the master-planned community. The lawsuit claims all were negligent in creating or failing to prevent conditions in which the deadly bacteria could form and be exposed to people aged 50 and older, who are at risk for serious complications or death, according to Lange.
Elizabeth York, general counsel for Johnson Development Corp., said in an email that her company “has no involvement in the Bonterra clubhouse and will seek dismissal from this lawsuit.”
“Johnson Development Corp. did not build the clubhouse and was not involved in its design or construction, and has no involvement in its programming or operations,” York added.
A woman who answered the phone at LEAD Association Management said her company has not managed Bonterra properties since January.
C.I.A Services, which manages the Bonterra at Cross Creek Ranch Community Association, according to its website, did not respond to a voicemail Tuesday seeking comment.
"Everyone's role in this water system will get flushed out as this (lawsuit) proceeds," Lange said.
Fort Bend County Health & Human Services said earlier this month that it had confirmed four cases of Legionnaires' disease, including one death, and believed all the cases were linked to the community clubhouse at 5730 Pedernales Bend Ln. in Fulshear, according to multiple local news reports. The county health department did not respond to a voicemail and email Tuesday seeking updated information about the outbreak.
Lange said Legionella bacteria is dangerous when aspirated and commonly thrives in manmade water systems such as pools, spas, showers and air conditioning units. Thousands of people per year are hospitalized with Legionnaires' disease in the United States, with about 15 percent of those people dying from it, according to the lawsuit.
"It's not rocket science," Lange said of ensuring a Legionella-free environment. "You just need to keep the water in the pool properly treated. We've heard from multiple residents who were concerned about water quality in the pool in the weeks leading up to this. Some residents were seeing algae in the pool. Others were seeing slime on the steps.
"One, that's a really good indicator that the pool has not been properly cleaned and maintained," he added. "Two, because Legionella bacteria thrives on biofilm, that's a food source for them."
Lange said Antoinette Marinchak, who he referred to as "Annie," is a native New Yorker whose husband died a few years ago. She relocated to Fort Bend County to be closer to her son, Steven, who lives there, Lange said.
Her family described Marinchak as the "life of the party" who liked to cook Italian food, according to Lange.
"She found this retirement community and it felt perfect," Lange said. "She made all these friends and it seemed like a real nice place. It was wonderful until this happened. She had no idea and her family had no idea that this was a possibility."