As We See It

Why MGM should settle that Legionnaire’s lawsuit—and quick

Aria at CityCenter in October 2009.

Tough times for CityCenter. Well, any time is a tough time for CityCenter, but now’s a real doozy. A small group of Aria guests who contracted Legionnaire’s disease at the property have banded together to sue MGM Resorts International and Dubai World for negligence. They want $337.5 million. How’d they arrive at that figure? Who knows? The point is, it’s big and it’s scary (and probably indicative of a settlement in the low tens of millions).

A hotel spokesman says MGM is going to fight the lawsuit. Here are two potential defenses: 1. While Legionnaire’s can be fatal, it’s also possible to have the bacteria in your system and experience no side effects. So maybe the plaintiffs’ damages, while real, aren’t actually that big. 2. Just because the plaintiffs contracted Legionnaire’s disease while staying at CityCenter doesn’t mean CityCenter was negligent. Perhaps it was just an unfortunate, unforeseeable, inevitable outbreak.

Of course, just because those arguments exist doesn’t mean MGM is actually going to make them. “We’re going to fight this lawsuit,” is often lawyerspeak for “We are going settle this thing as fast as we can.” MGM doesn’t want this trial in the paper every day. That would only further damage the hotel’s reputation.

Plus, even if MGM won the lawsuit, it wouldn’t walk away with a rallying cry. “We told you the Legionnaire’s disease those people contracted at our property wasn’t a result of our negligence!” isn’t exactly glossy brochure material.

From a PR point of view, the worst part of this debacle might be the disease’s name: “Legionnaire’s.” It’s not sexy sounding, like rubella or candida; it’s awkward and old-timey, like scurvy and whooping cough. It begs the question: “Didn’t we eradicate that thing in the ’20s?

In reality, Legionnaire’s wasn’t even named until 1976. But when you’re facing a lawsuit like this, it’s not always about the truth. Often, it’s about making it go away as fast as possible.


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