Guest Post: Litigation Fall Out From Playboy Mansion Illness at DOMAINfest 2011
This is a guest post written by attorney Enrico Schaefer of Traverse Legal. Schaefer is an experienced IP lawyer whose firm handles cases in a variety of practice areas, including litigation. I have been told that a complaint in the matter below may be filed today or tomorrow. For more information, contact Mark Clark.
What started out as a simple post on German domainer Nico Zeifang’s Facebook page two days after the Playboy Mansion Party at DOMAINfest turned into something much bigger. Under the title “Domainerflu count: Who else caught the disease at DFG?” the post generated over 200 comments. Within hours, it was clear that at dozens of Playboy Mansion party attendees were sick, with the same upper respiratory symptoms. Within days, the number of reported illness had climbed to over 150 Playboy Mansion party attendees (no doubt more by now), with many moving into pneumonia.
Ironically, it was the nationalized Health Care providers in Switzerland who did early testing, with one Swiss party attendee reporting positive for Legionellosis with multiple levels of testing. Ron Jackson, whose wife Diana became pretty sick as well, started tracking the illness and reported the matter to the CDC who then involved the L.A. County Board of Health for a coordinated investigation including detailed questionnaires and requests for those who could afford it (or who were in LA and could get the test performed for free) to go through a battery of tests.
As of today, the L.A. Department of Health has confirmed the presence of the Legionella bacteria at the Playboy Mansion, although it has not issued its final findings.
The Los Angeles Department of Health remains circumspect about exact location of the bacteria at the Mansion and is waiting for other positive test results for Legionella bacteria in the samples taken from attendees before issuing a final report. Those of us who went through the testing are being requested to get more tests for comparison in the coming weeks. However, there is little doubt that “it is more probable than not” that the vast majority of Playboy Mansion attendees got sick from a bacterial strain of Legionella as a result of exposure at the Playboy Mansion. The common symptoms, consistency of symptoms with Legionella, timing, prior diagnosis of Legionella in at least one sick attendee and the curious revelation of finding Legionella bacteria at the Playboy Mansion well before the investigation was concluded make this pretty obvious.
I was put in an unusual situation as a result of the illness. I got very sick on Sunday after returning from DOMAINfest, with days of being in bed, long periods were I could barely speak because my voice was just about shut down, fever, wicked pain in my lower back, exhaustion, cough and related problems. My wife, who also became sick but not as severely, was leaving on vacation shortly after I became ill leaving me at home with three young boys trying to get my energy, voice and health back. For the last two years, I had been planning a backcountry hut trip in Colorado at high altitude. It can be a dangerous trip in good health. I had to cancel given the problems with my lungs and breathing. I struggled at home and at work for weeks. I continued to hear about people who were stuck in L.A. because they were too sick to travel, and others whose infection turned to pneumonia.
I asked one of the attorneys in my office to start doing an independent investigation, reviewing expert data on Legionaires, its causes and prevention. How would a place like the Playboy Mansion end up exposing guests to Legionella bacteria? It turns out that the issue really comes down to cleanliness. A little chlorine goes a long way. All of the information suggests that the Playboy Mansion failed to keep their facility clean.
I decided to retain my law firm to represent my wife and I in investigating the matter and, if appropriate, filing a lawsuit against responsible parties. There is information about obtaining legal representation and the anticipated lawsuit to be filed here. I had gone from being a lawyer to a client and this is why I made the decision to hire an attorney to protect my interest.
I see a lot of things as an attorney. A portion of my career was devoted to representing injured people in mass accidents, including class action asbestos cases. Our firm recently handled the largest number of victims from the Crown Princess Cruise ship accident in the Los Angeles, California complex litigation court. “Personal responsibility” is a common theme in tort cases these days. But typically people are referring to the ‘responsibility’ of the person who was hurt.
I know based on my experience that most people who are negligent are quick to point at the victim, without taking any ‘personal responsibility’ for their own actions. Our justice system helps hold people accountable. The “Playboy Plague” was not an accident or act of God. By all appearances, it was an easily preventable exposure at a location, which is paid significant sums to host such events. The effects were much more than a minor inconvenience for me and many fared much worse than me.
So what good can come from all this? I would hope that the Playboy Mansion would clean up its act as appropriate and take the measures necessary to make sure its guests are safe in the future. But the real effect is more likely the other large-scale event locations who see what happened here and find information which causes them to upgrade their efforts to provide a clean environment for their guests. It often turns out that publicity about these types of occurrences can have as much prophylactic effect as courtroom litigation. The Internet is a wonderful thing. It helps people make smarter decisions about many things, including safety. The Internet makes accountability permanent.
There are several other attendees who became ill who have contacted my law firm, and are seeking representation as well. I expect more will join in as more information is publicized about the event. In many cases, the damages for Plaintiffs won’t be unduly large, or have impacted them in a significant manner. Nevertheless, victims will have a shot at ‘fair compensation’ for having the very unpleasant experience of contracting this illness and the knowledge that others may not have to go through the same experience.
And there are questions that still need answers? Has this happened at the Playboy Mansion before? Are there instances where people got sick there but there was no Ron Jackson to step in, coordinate information and contact the CDC?
This has been unfortunate for DOMAINfest which put on the best domain conference ever, and DomainSponsor who shelled out a lot of money to sponsor the party at the Playboy Mansion. Both brands were impacted by the incident, although probably not within the community of people who know them well. Regardless, they deserved better for their A+ effort. Seems like the folks at Playboy may owe them more than an apology before the dust has settled on this one.