Family sue over holidaymaker’s death from legionnaires’ disease

The family of a man who died after contracting legionnaires’ disease on holiday in Bulgaria is taking legal action against tour operator Jet2.

John Cowan, 43, of Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, died on June 19 after falling ill at the Hotel Kalofer in the country’s Sunny Beach resort.

His death came a week after he returned home, where he continued to feel unwell and was eventually taken to hospital after he saw a GP.

John Cowan
John Cowan would have turned 44 on Wednesday (Family handout/PA)

The causes of death formally listed on his death certificate are septic shock and legionella pneumonia.

Mr Cowan’s family is now launching a civil action against Jet2 after it emerged others are believed to have been struck with the same virus at the hotel.

His brother Barry Cowan, 41, said: “We are all devastated.

“We just want answers – to know why this happened, to know it will never happen to anyone else and to know why the tour operator and the hotel have done nothing to help.”

Legionnaires’ disease is contracted by inhaling small droplets of water in the air that contain legionella bacteria.

Jet2 said it has been investigating and has transferred all customers and bookings for the summer to other hotels.

The tour operator said two customers died while a third person affected was not a customer.

Mr Cowan’s mother Marie Cowan, 63, also from Hamilton, said: “When John came home he was feeling unwell. He was weak and his bones were aching.

“He basically stayed in bed most of that week – it wasn’t until he started getting short of breath that we went to the GP.

“As soon as the doctor saw John he realised he needed urgent attention and phoned an ambulance which took him to Wishaw General.”

Hospital staff ran emergency tests and put Mr Cowan on a ventilator after discovering he had pneumonia in one lung.

Later that evening his kidneys stopped working and he was put on dialysis.

His mother was then told her son had legionnaires’ disease.

She said: “They had him treated by a medical team from Leicester but by that time he had pneumonia in the other lung as well.

“John was going to be moved to the Golden Jubilee but before the transfer he had to undergo an operation to help him breathe.

“However, during surgery he went into cardiac arrest, where he was unresponsive for 30 minutes.

“John was eventually revived and taken to the Jubilee, however, on arrival specialists told us John had suffered catastrophic brain damage as a result of the lack of oxygen so we gave permission to turn off the ventilator and give John a dignified passing.”

A Jet2 spokesman said: “Sadly, we can confirm that two customers recently passed away shortly after returning to the UK from holiday in Bulgaria.

“We would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to their families at this very difficult time and we have been in constant contact to offer all the assistance and support that we can.

“The health and safety of our customers is our absolute priority.”

He added: “In response, and to support our investigation, two independent specialists were instructed to take samples from the hotel and a UKAS accredited laboratory conducted testing of the water samples for any contamination.

“The results of all their tests were negative. We will continue to assist the local authorities in their investigations as required.

“Despite these results we have taken further precautionary measures, like other UK tour operators at the hotel.

“We have transferred all customers and all bookings for this summer to other hotels, and we have also put a stop on sales to the affected hotel for summer 2019 and summer 2020.”

Mark Gibson, partner at Digby Brown Solicitors and head of its foreign and travel team, said: “We are currently investigating a claim that a man died as a result of legionnaires poisoning at a hotel in Bulgaria but as the case is at an early stage it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

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