Hotel faces Dh61m suit from ill guests

Municipality tests negative, but one guest died and two became ill.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 4:  The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina, the hotel where the BBC cricket statistician and commentator Bill Frindall was a guest before he died of Legionnaires' disease in Dubai on February 4, 2009.  (Randi Sokoloff / The National)  For news story. *** Local Caption ***  RS007-020409-Westin.jpgRS007-020409-Westin.jpg
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DUBAI // The owner of a Dubai hotel is facing a US$16.7m (Dh61.3m) lawsuit in New York after two of its guests allegedly contracted legionnaires' disease there.

The suit, filed in the New York Supreme Court against Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, which owns the Westin Mina Seyahi in Dubai Marina, claims that Thomas Boyle, from Britain, and Elodie Nogues, from France, contracted the disease after staying at the Westin in January and February of 2009.

It says their health rapidly deteriorated, requiring a hospital stay, which it claims has been proven to be due to legionnaires' disease.

The British cricket commentator Bill Frindall, 69, died of the disease in Dubai in January 2009, after staying at the same hotel.

The disease is a form of pneumonia spread through airborne water droplets, which thrives in water and air-conditioning systems.

At the time of Frindall's death, Starwood said it was working with the Dubai authorities to find out how he and two other guests had become infected. However, the municipality's laboratory tests on samples taken from the hotel's air-conditioning and water systems found no sign of the bacteria.

Hussain Nasser Lootah, the director general of the municipality, said in a statement two days after Frindall's death that the test results proved beyond doubt that none of the hotel's guests had contracted the disease there.

"We had taken 24 water samples from different locations at the hotel and all of them tested negative," he said.

"The hotel had, in fact, conducted its routine tests three times since it opened its doors in May 2008."

The lawsuit, however, asserts that Mr Boyle and Ms Nogues, who were guests before and after Frindall's death, both contracted the disease in Dubai.

Mr Boyle arrived at the Westin with his family on December 28, 2008, and left several days later, on January 6, 2009.

"On several occasions during his stay at the hotel, Mr Boyle visited the highly promoted and self-acclaimed Heavenly Spa by Westin and entered the hot tub, sauna and steam room," the documents lodged with the US court state.

After his return to the UK, he developed flu-like symptoms and his health deteriorated rapidly.

On January 13, he was rushed to Mayday National Health centre in Croydon, England and was diagnosed with the disease. The next day he was transferred to King Edward VII hospital in London, where he spent 14 days.

Ms Nogues started to feel weak and feverish two days after checking into the hotel with her son and a friend on February 14. After two visits from a hotel doctor and with her health deteriorating, she returned to France on February 21 where she was diagnosed with legionnaires' disease on March 2.

Both plaintiffs, according to the lawsuit, suffered from compromised immune systems, depression and anxiety. Both, it further states, were as a result unable to return to their normal lives.

The case is in the discovery period at the New York supreme court, to determine its merits, according to Mr Boyle and Ms Nogues' New York lawyer, Vano Hartounian of Ballon Stoll Bader & Nadler. Mr Hartounian said it could be up to a year before the court reaches a decision about whether to go to trial, adding the two would be pressing for a jury trial.

He said the suit had been filed in New York because Starwood was based there, and they were not pursuing a civil claim in Dubai for now. The Starwood hotel chain was asked for a comment on the fact legal proceedings had been launched, but no statement has yet been issued.