North Carolina

Hot tub companies to blame for deadly disease outbreak at NC fair, lawsuit says

Hot tub displays and a poorly maintained water system are to blame for a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the North Carolina Mountain Fair, a new lawsuit alleges.

Three people have died and more than 140 were sickened in the outbreak linked to the hot tubs at the fair in early September, state health officials say.

Jimmy Thomas filed a lawsuit Thursday in Henderson County Superior Court against two hot tub companies that displays at the fair. Ten days after visiting the fair, the lawsuit says, Thomas had to be checked into a hospital with a 105-degree fever, diarrhea and vomiting, and he was delirious.

Thomas, who lives in Cleveland County, went to the fair Sept. 10 and spent an hour inside the Davis Center, according to the lawsuit. He also talked to a salesman at one of the hot tub displays at the fair, the court filing said.

The companies named in the lawsuit are All Pro Billiards and Spa in Asheville and Soft Fun, doing business as SCM Relaxation, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Neither company returned messages Friday morning.

Thomas’ attorney, Fred Pritzker, said effects from the disease have left his client feeling fatigued and lethargic and with “a lack of mental sharpness” that is common in severe cases of Legoinnaires’ disease.

Pritzker, whose Minneapolis law firm specializes in outbreak cases, said he has another 20 clients who got sick at the fair and expects to have more sign up with his firm.

The fair was held at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center in Fletcher from Sept. 6-15.

An investigation by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services linked the outbreak to the hot tub display during the last five days of the fair.

The disease is caused by Legionella bacteria, a natural bacteria that grows in warm water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, hot tubs that are not treated correctly are known to provide the right environment to spread Legionella.

But there are well-known ways to prevent the bacteria from growing in hot tubs, such as treating the water system and plumbing, according to the suit.

“If everyone did everything they were supposed to do, this would not have happened,” Pritzker said in an interview.

“This started with the water supply in the Davis Center.”

Pritzker said he did not name the state as a defendant in the lawsuit because a complaint against the state-run agriculture center would have to go first through an administrative process. The hot tub vendors, however, can bring the state in as a third-party defendant to potentially share the blame for the outbreak.

State public health officials said they found another case of Legionnaires’ disease in someone who did not visit the fair but was in the same agricultural center for a later event.

Legionnaires’ disease is contracted by breathing in water vapor, say from a hot tub, that has the Legionella bacteria in it, public health officials say. It cannot be transmitted between people.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.