Air conditioning illness compensation claims

This guide considers what you need to know about making a successful air conditioning illness compensation claim.

How much can I claim?

Many people appreciate the benefits of air-conditioning in the workplace, in public buildings and in shops and stores. It helps keep temperatures comfortable, and when properly maintained and used, air-conditioning systems remain entirely safe in the vast majority of cases.

Unfortunately, where air-conditioning units are neglected they can lead to health hazards being carried in the air that they so effectively circulate.

If a system is not properly cleaned, dust, dirt and other allergenic particles can be distributed. These may cause or exacerbate asthma, allergies and sinusitis.

The hazards may be more severe if bacteria, viruses or moulds get into the system, potentially spreading a wide variety of illnesses. The best known of these illnesses is Legionnaire's disease.

Air conditioning units

What is Legionnaire's disease?

Caused by specific water-borne bacteria called Legionella pneumophila (Legionella p.), Legionnaire's disease is a serious lung infection.

The first identified case was in a group of veterans, "the American Legion", in 1976, after whom the disease is named.

Although outbreaks are uncommon, the disease can be fatal, especially for people at risk of contracting a lung infection (pneumonia) - the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions such as a weakened immune system.

The worst outbreak in recent years was in Edinburgh in summer 2012 when 92 cases were recorded, four of which were fatal.

How is it contracted?

Legionnaire's disease or Legionellosis is most commonly contracted when an individual inhales fine mist from a source of water contaminated with Legionella p. bacteria. It can also be contracted from drinking infected water but is not contagious, so does not pass from patient to patient.

Quite common and harmless in small numbers Legionnella p. multiply where there is organic matter such as algae, rust, scale or sludge to provide nutrients. They will not reproduce at temperatures below 20ºC (68ºF) or above 60ºC (140ºF), so are unlikely to pose a risk in cool outdoor water such as rivers, lakes or reservoirs.

Poorly maintained water-cooled air conditioning systems, humidifiers, whirlpool spas and cooling towers may provide the optimum environment in which Legionella p. can thrive.

What are the symptoms and how is it diagnosed?

Often described as flu-like, initial symptoms include chills, fever, a cough, tiredness and fatigue, headache and muscle ache and decreased appetite. There may be diarrhoea, vomiting and signs of mental confusion.

The onset typically occurs with 2-10 days of exposure to Legionnella p. bacteria

Diagnosis may be difficult as patients' chest scans and X-rays may often present as pneumonia. For a firm diagnosis additional tests (blood and urine) are required.

A milder form, Pontiac fever, has similar symptoms of muscle ache and fatigue, but the onset is earlier, being within 2 hours and up to 2 days of exposure. Patients usually recover within 2-5 days without medical treatment.

As it is classed as a 'notifiable disease' all cases of Legionnaires' disease must be reported to the local authority for investigation. This is so the source may be identified and steps taken to ensure others are not exposed.

Who can contract Legionnaire's Disease and who is at risk?

Anyone can contract Legionnaire's disease. However, the illness typically affects individuals with a compromised immune system or chronic lung diseases, smokers, or those who are middle-aged or older.

As large buildings and those with complex water systems are likely to be most at risk, anyone working or visiting such buildings may also be at risk.

Can Legionnella contamination be prevented?

Contamination can be prevented by proper maintenance of water based systems. Ensuring the system is inspected and cleaned regularly to prevent build-up of organic matter, and the temperature is kept below 20ºC (68ºF) will inhibit bacterial growth.

Systems that use air-cooled refrigerants are not susceptible to Legionnella contamination.

Is it possible to claim for compensation for Legionnaire's disease?

As Legionnaire's disease is usually contracted through the neglect of water-based systems it may be possible to bring a claim against those responsible for the systems' upkeep.

Quittance's team of solicitors have helped many claimants who have contracted the illness to make personal injury claims where negligence has been shown to be the cause.

Calculate my air conditioning illness compensation

How much can I claim?

A calculation for compensation is based on how serious the injuries that resulting from the accident or illness are.

Upper and lower figures for specific injuries are recommended in the Judicial College guidelines for personal injury awards.

These recommendations are used by insurers and solicitors when making a settlement offer. The Judicial College guidelines are also used in Court to determine awards.

In some circumstances an accident or illness can cause an existing injury to worsen but it may still be possible to make a claim.

In addition to the general damages recommended by the Judicial College, you can also claim for costs you have incurred during treatment and ongoing care.

How does No Win, No Fee work for air conditioning illness claims?

A No Win, No Fee claim is begun with the injured claimant agreeing, with their injury lawyer, a CFA (or Conditional Fee Agreement).

A CFA is, in essence, the terms and conditions between the solicitor and you.

The document sets out the service the solicitor handling your case provides, and importantly, the success fee to be taken from your compensation award when your claim is successful.

Working with a Quittance personal injury solicitor, you are able to focus on your rest and recovery, knowing that you will never be out of pocket.

Meet the team

The national panel of QLS solicitors handle all types of road accident claims, from fast track cases to life-changing injuries. Selected on the basis of their track record in winning cases, our solicitors have years of experience.

Meet more of the QLS team: click here.

Kevin Walker Serious Injury Panel Solicitor
Rakhi Chauhan Road Accident Panel Solicitor
Shahida Chaudery Complex Injury Claims Panel Solicitor
Jenny Jones, Senior litigator

About the author

With over 20 years' experience in the law, Jenny has spent the last decade specialising in personal injury, with a particular focus on industrial disease cases.

Read more about this Quittance Legal Expert