Resources & Insights

Hospitality Industry Challenge: The Rising Tide of Legionnaires’ Outbreaks

October 25, 2019

Paul Plaksin,
Insurance Advisor

Although more common than ever, the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Sheraton Atlanta seemed to catch everyone’s attention. One of the best-known hotels in the city, the Sheraton announced it was closing its doors for a month this past summer to address the outbreak.

As it turned out, it was the biggest such outbreak in Georgia history. One person died and 11 other cases of Legionnaires’ were confirmed. Dozens of additional suspected cases also were reported.

The hotel wasn’t alone in having to deal with an outbreak this year. A number of other cases, including one involving a death, were reported at a state fair in North Carolina. In Michigan, seven people treated at a Detroit hospital were diagnosed with Legionnaires’.

Indeed, instances of Legionnaires’ have been rising dramatically, rising by a stunning 550% since 2000.

Legionnaires’ is a lung infection contracted when people breathe in the bacteria through a mist or by accidentally getting water into their lungs that contains the bacteria. The disease is serious – about 1 in 10 die – but can be treated with antibiotics.

The key to preventing Legionnaires’ disease is to make sure that water systems are properly maintained. These would include:

  • Hot tubs
  • Hot water tanks and heaters
  • Large plumbing systems
  • Cooling towers (structures that contain water and a fan as part of centralized air-cooling systems for building or industrial processes)
  • Decorative fountains

Water management programs are, of course, an industry standard in any large building in the U.S. But that doesn’t mean outbreaks can’t or don’t happen.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has published a comprehensive standard known as “188” for managing the risk of Legionnaires’ during building design, construction and operation. You can view it here.

Using ASHRAE 188 as a basis, the Centers for Disease Control developed a user-friendly toolkit to help building owners and managers evaluate the water system and devices in their buildings and then develop an effective water management program if one is needed.

The toolkit includes:

  • A simple yes/no worksheet ( to determine if an entire building or parts of it are at increased risk for growing and spreading Legionella.
  • A basic walkthrough describing the elements of an effective water management program.
  • Scenarios and examples describing common water quality problems and how to respond properly to reduce the risk for Legionnaires’ disease.
  • Special sections and considerations for those who work in hospitality.

You can view the CDC Toolkit here.

Finally, it’s important to note that, were you a hotel, spa or bar owner, you can be held liable should people become infected with legionella at your establishment.

Just one uninsured lawsuit can wreak financial havoc, so having Environmental Impairment Liability insurance should be considered part of the cost of doing business.

Don’t make the mistake of believing General Liability insurance will cover these sorts of claims. In fact, most GL policies exclude bodily injury caused by bacteria.

Paul Plaksin is an Insurance Advisor at CCIG. Reach him at or 720-330-7914.

CCIG is a Denver-area insurance, employee benefits and surety brokerage with clients nationwide. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We help you manage your long-term cost of insurance with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.

Also read5 Ways Hotels Can Protect Employees from Sexual Harassment


Share this:
Back to Resources

Contact Us

Call us at 303-799-0110 or reach out by filling out a short form.

Get In Touch