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VA volunteer can’t sue over Legionella, government argues |

VA volunteer can’t sue over Legionella, government argues

A volunteer at a VA hospital is an “employee” and cannot sue the government over contracting Legionnaires’ disease, even if he can’t file a claim through the federal workers’ compensation system, the government claims in court documents filed on Monday.

Edward Stockley, 64, of Baldwin Borough and his wife, Paula, sued the government in March.

A Vietnam War veteran and retired cook, Stockley applied to do volunteer work at the Veterans Affairs’ University Drive hospital in November 2011, not knowing the hospital was in the midst of an outbreak.

The government contends that applying to become a volunteer makes his catching the disease a work-related injury and bars him from suing. Whether “benefits can or will be paid is immaterial” to whether Stockley is covered by the federal workers’ compensation law, the government says.

Stockley’s lawyers, Douglas Price and Harry S. Cohen, could not be reached for comment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease occurred in facilities in the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System from February 2011 to November 2012. The CDC traced the problem to bacteria-contaminated water at the Oakland and O’Hara campuses.

The outbreak killed at least six veterans, and 16 others probably or definitely acquired Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia.

Stockley used the hospital’s water fountains to take his diabetes medication while he was filling out forms and undergoing physical exams, the lawsuit states. He finished the application process nine days before he showed up in the emergency room on Nov. 29, 2011, and subsequently tested positive for Legionella, the lawsuit says.

Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or [email protected].

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