Legionella outbreaks and product liability

Medical test under the Microscope

In recent months, NHS Scotland have investigated a number of cases of suspected Legionella longbeachae in Edinburgh and Tayside. In Edinburgh, the cases have been linked to products containing gardening compost – all of the individuals affected in that region were keen gardeners and had purchased this type of product before becoming infected.

The outbreak raises the possibility that proceedings may be brought against the manufactures of the items if it is determined that their products were the cause of individuals becoming infected with Legionella longbeachae and established that product safety standards fall below the level that a reasonable member of the public would expect.  Individuals affected by defective products are entitled to make a compensation claim under Consumer Protection and Sale of Goods legislation. 

This is an important, though complex, area of law and manufacturers are able to rely on a series of defences set out within the legislation.   Product liability can offer both reparation for individuals adversely affected by a faulty or unsafe product and serve a much wider public education and safety purpose, bringing it to the attention of the manufacturer and consumers  that the product has a defect, and ensuring that any manufacturer takes steps to either sort the problem and/or if it a common fault,  issue a recall notice. These actions should help to prevent others suffering similar injury, harm or illness.

On the specific issue of recent legionella longbeachae cases in Edinburgh and Tayside, health authorities has advised that symptoms can include headaches, diarrhoea or a dry cough followed by pneumonia.  Most sufferers recover after treatment with antibiotics but Legionella longbeache can be a serious condition, particularly for people with prior or underlying medical problems, so prompt medical attention is vital.

Authorities' are advising gardeners and others working with compost to take sensible steps to protect their health.  These include:

• read and follow any manufacturers' instructions on the bag
• open any compost or potting mix bags carefully, if possible using a blade
• wear gloves when handling compost
• keep the door open in greenhouses or sheds when potting-up plants or filling hanging baskets
• wear a mask if the air is dusty, particularly indoors
• wash hands immediately after use of compost
• if you are going to smoke while gardening, please wash your hands before doing so.

To discuss any aspect of a product defect or liability claim, or an aspect of legislation or regulation in this area you can contact Mark Gibson  (0141 566 9503).