February 28, 2020
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Maine Maritime grad who caught Legionnaires’ during internship wins more than $300,000

A Maine Maritime Academy graduate has won $310,000 in his lawsuit over a near deadly bout of Legionnaires’ disease he contracted during a summer internship.

A federal judge in New Orleans on Wednesday awarded New Hampshire resident Bryan Higgins $150,000 for pain and suffering, $150,000 for lost wages and $10,000 for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder after a jury-waived trial.

Higgins, 27, of Concord, New Hampshire, became ill in August 2013 while working for LaBorde Marine Management LLC of New Orleans aboard an offshore vessel.

U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle concluded the company was negligent in keeping Higgins’ safe from the disease. The judge found no credible evidence that the company’s conduct crossed from ordinary negligence to wanton misconduct and denied the plaintiff’s demand for punitive damages.

Higgins contracted the disease when he cleaned out a refrigerator drain without being instructed in proper safety methods, according to court documents. No one else working on the vessel became ill.

The disease is not contagious but is contracted when a person breathes in drops of water containing the legionella bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can lead to pneumonia.

Higgins was hospitalized for a month, according to court documents. It took him a year to recover and return to school. He graduated in 2015, a year later than his classmates.

His attorney, Michael Savasuk of Portland, called the judgment “a landmark decision.”

“Just two cases have been reported outside of cruise vessels,” he said Sunday. “One was in Italy on a tank barge. The other was in Alaska on an offshore vessel. Other people will be able to use this case to pursue actions concerning legionella.”

Attorneys for LaBorde Marine Management did not respond to a request for comment on the judgment.

Higgins was working on a ship when the judge issued his ruling and was unavailable to comment, according to Savasuk.

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