Wedowee couple files $5M suit against motel owners over lung disease
by Daniel Gaddy
dgaddy@annistonstar.com
Oct 25, 2013 | 7678 views |  0 comments | 182 182 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Wedowee couple wants $5 million from the local owners of a Kentucky motel, saying the business is responsible for the wife developing a lung disease.

The owners, however, say the lawsuit is baseless and the woman has had longstanding health problems.

An attorney representing Vera Ann Johnson and John Allen Johnson on Thursday filed a suit in Calhoun County Circuit Court against Oxford residents Umesh and Mallika Patel, the owners of a company that operates the Budget Inn Express in Ashland, Ky.

The suit says Vera Ann Johnson developed a type of severe pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease from bacteria that developed on an air-conditioning unit of one of the motel’s rooms.

Karen Landers, an assistant state health officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said Legionnaire’s disease is caused by a bacteria called Legionella, which grows in water. Patients become sick when they inhale the bacteria through water vapor from devices such as hot tubs, decorative fountains and cooling towers. But it can’t spread from person to person, she said.

Landers said most healthy people do not get sick when exposed to the bacteria. People at risk of the disease are those older than 50, current or former smokers, those with chronic lung problems and those with weak immune systems.

According to court documents, the Patels hired John Allen Johnson to do repair work in the rooms and bathrooms of the motel. While he did the work, Johnson and his wife stayed in the motel for 13 days, from April 18 to May 1.

The Johnsons’ suit says the Patels did not maintain the air conditioning units, and the business had multiple instances of black mold on the premises.

According to the suit, Vera Ann Johnson was admitted to Regional Medical Center in Anniston on May 5, and upon being discharged was diagnosed with the disease.

In describing Vera Ann Johnson’s suffering, the suit says, “She was caused to have to be subsidized with an ‘oxygen apparatus,’ for the rest of her natural life; she was caused to suffer huge doctor bills, hospital bills, drug bills, and other medical services in and about her efforts to heal and cure her injuries.”

Umesh Patel, reached by phone on Friday, disputed the Johnsons’ account; he had a technician inspect the room’s air-conditioning unit after he heard of their complaints, and was told nothing was wrong.

He added that several guests have stayed in the room since May 1, including one who purchased the room for two months, and none of the customers has had any problems.

Patel said Vera Ann Johnson has had longstanding breathing problems and has been hospitalized many times. He said the Johnsons left the job early in Kentucky because she had an appointment with a doctor. Patel said he could not name Johnson’s specific ailment, however.

Efforts to reach Bill Smith, a Birmingham attorney representing the Johnsons, were unsuccessful Friday.

Assistant Metro Editor Daniel Gaddy: 256-235-3560. On Twitter @DGaddy_Star.

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