A judge has certified a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the more than 600 people who became ill from a 2008 norovirus outbreak at the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge.
Albany law firm Dreyer Boyajian LLP said in a news release Wednesday that it asked for the certification more than three years ago after lawyers from various law firms filed dozens of individual lawsuits against the owners of the indoor water park on behalf of the hundreds who became ill from the virus, also known as Norwalk virus.
The outbreak occurred in March 2008, when more than 600 people reported gastrointestinal illness to state and local health officials after visiting the indoor lodge and water park, which opened just two years prior and cost $43 million.
The state Department of Health determined the outbreak to be the contagious norovirus, which is a group of related viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis. It manifests itself in the form of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain and can cause lethargy, weakness, muscle aches, headaches and fever. Although norovirus symptoms generally last just a few days, the young, elderly and immuno-compromised can face more severe and long-lasting symptoms.
Calls were received by the health department from people in 18 counties in the state, as well as six other states and Canada, all of who said they had been at the park and became very ill.
Judge David B. Krogmann, a state Supreme Court justice in Warren County who is presiding over the case, granted class certification after numerous victims filed lawsuits, which were eventually consolidated in Baker, et. al. vs. Six Flags, Inc. et. al. He defined the class to include anyone who experienced the illness while visiting or within 72 hours of leaving the lodge during the month of March 2008 and anyone who reported or responded to inquiries from the state Department of Health about the illness.
The class-action suit was made in the name of Saratoga Springs resident Leonard Baker, who fell ill from norovirus and later sued, and is being prosecuted by Dreyer Boyajian LLP and fellow Albany law firm DeGraff, Foy & Kunz LLP.
Attorney Donald Boyajian said he originally pursued the class action certification so the average person could seek legal action.
“Here, many people, especially children, suffered brief but violent periods of illness,” he said in the release. “Taken alone, these claims are generally too small to justify the significant expense required to prove liability, especially against a large corporation like Six Flags. But the collective injury to thousands of persons cannot be ignored.”
The state Department of Health required Six Flags to implement infection control measures following its investigation, including cleaning, disinfection and review of food service operations and proper hygiene procedures. Two park restaurants — Tall Tales and Trapper’s Buffet — temporarily closed because employees had fallen ill.
But the class action alleges the corporation failed to implement, monitor or ensure proper sanitary conditions and safeguards at the park, which included properly training staff and allowing sick employees to continue working. In addition, it alleges Six Flags did not adequately warn guests of the outbreak and should have temporarily shut down to disinfect and sanitize the park to prevent further infection.
“Guests reported that entire floors of the hotel were sick,” Boyajian said in the release. “Yet, Six Flags continued to keep their doors open and charge admission, despite people becoming sick hours after checking in.”
A health department spokeswoman said that when the outbreak was discovered, the resort almost immediately hired an infectious-disease specialist who advised managers on infection-control practices and monitored the situation.
A court-ordered notice of the class action is being published and mailed to identifiable members. It says that Six Flags has denied and continues to deny the allegations made on behalf of the class and has asserted many defenses.
A Six Flags spokeswoman said company policy prohibits her from commenting on pending legal matters.
“The safety and wellbeing of our guests is our top priority,” said Rebecca Close. “And I will say that it was never determined that the illness originated at our property.”
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Categories: Schenectady County