NJ Law Review Update
ISSUE: Is a commercial landlord
liable for death due to water-borne Legionnaire’s disease?
Appellate Division on May 23, 2013, in the matter of
Vellucci v. Allstate Insurance Company opined that a
commercial landlord has no duty to take proactive measures
to insure that a building’s water supply is not
contaminated by Legionella bacteria.
is a wrongful death and survivorship action brought by
Anthony Vellucci on behalf of his deceased father, Albert
Vellucci. The decedent was employed by Allstate Insurance
Company and worked in an office located in a commercial
office building in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Mack-Cali
Realty LP owned the building, designed the building, built
the building and managed the building. According to the
plaintiff, his father contracted Legionnaire’s disease in
December 2004 when he was exposed to water-borne
Legionella bacteria in the building’s water supply.
defendant Mack-Cali moved for summary judgment arguing
that under the circumstances of the case, it was not
legally responsible to insure the building’s water supply
was free of the bacteria. Mack-Cali did not know or have
reason to know of the presence of the bacteria in the
building or any of its properties in the northeast United
States. Summary Judgment was granted by the trial court.
The plaintiff appealed this decision arguing that Mack-Cali
is a sophisticated owner/manager of a commercial property,
and therefore had a duty to maintain the building’s water
supply and plumbing system in a reasonably safe condition.
Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s granting of
summary judgment. The Appellate Division found that the
prevailing industry and regulatory standards do not impose
a duty on commercial landlords to take proactive measures
to insure that the building’s water supply is not
contaminated by Legionella bacteria. There is no evidence
produced that Mack-Cali actually knew or should have known
that the building’s water supply had been contaminated.
There is no statutory regulatory scheme imposing such a
duty on owners or managers of commercial office buildings.
Further, the plaintiff failed to produce any industry
standards requiring same. Moreover, the court found that
the decedent’s case was an isolated one and once it became
known that Legionella bacteria was in the water system,
appropriate measures were taken by Mack-Cali to
investigate the matter and prevent its reoccurrence.
Therefore, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial
court’s granting of summary judgment and found that the
commercial landlord was not liable for death due to
water-borne Legionnaires disease because no duty was owed
to the plaintiff because there was no foreseeability.