A 12-story hospital addition in Dayton, Ohio that was hailed in 2010 as an advance in modular construction has turned into a major legal headache and source of costly losses to the construction team, its insurers and the project architect.
The lawsuits were dismissed or settled, according to an attorney involved in the case and an affidavit quoted in a ruling by the state court of appeals for Montgomery County in Dayton. The claims about how the Legionella started have never been confirmed by a trial. Although it is possible improper maintenance played a role or was the cause of the outbreak, the hospital and insurers for the prime contractor and mechanical contractor have spent money on a legal defense and and settlements and new claims are possible, according to attorneys and court filings.
The addition project's architect, Seattle-based NBBJ, could be one of the companies facing an expensive legal bill for the defense against past or future lawsuits. In January an Ohio state appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that NBBJ breached its contract with the hospital and its corporate parent, Premier Health Partners, by failing to insure the hospital under a commercial general liability policy as required by its contract.
“They're going to owe some people some money,” claims Neil Freund, the hospital's attorney. “If they don't seek the Supreme Court review or if the appellate decision is upheld.”
While the underlying Legionella cases have been dismissed, notes Luther Ligget, NBBJ's general counsel, he “firmly expected” the plaintiffs will re-file.
Meanwhile, Ligget says, the January decision by two Ohio Court of Appeals judges in Dayton “is so preliminary to any consideration of liability, NBBJ will have adequate opportunity in the future to address issues further.” No appeal is contemplated at this time, he adds.
How the Bacteria Grow
Legionella is a bacteria that can spawn in ventilation ducts or water pipes, and causes a respiratory condition known as Legionnaires Disease. The best way to prevent an outbreak is through good design and maintenance of water systems to prevent pooling or stagnant water at temperatures from 77 to 107.6 F.
Breaking ground in May 2008, the construction team focused on the schedule for he 484,000-sq-ft addition. The budget was $135 million.
When the project was underway, expectations ran high that the methods used would propel multitrade prefabrication of hospital components to a new level.
“I want to change the design of hospitals with this process,” Marty Corrado, project executive for field operations in Skanska USA Building Inc.’s Nashville office, told ENR. Skanska led a joint venture with local Shook Construction to build the addition, which is devoted to care for heart patients. “This is going to revamp the entire [hospital-delivery] process as we know it,” said Corrado.
For the job, building team leaders decided, during design development, to join mechanical, electrical, plumbing and drywall trades in a warehouse to assemble five levels of racks, bathroom pods and bed “head” walls.
As the death toll from the record-setting hurricane mounts in the Bahamas and damage estimates there and in the U.S. head into the billions, industry experts see increasing pressure to address infrastructure resilience.