A New Zealand woman is gearing up to sue Airbnb following the death of her husband. 

Sandra Bermingham, 54, was visiting Gozo, Malta with her family in 2016 when her husband, Paul, became sick after using the hot tub in their Airbnb rental. Paul died a few days after returning home from the Christmas holiday from Legionnaires disease.

Bermingham is now fighting against the VRU company. She believes the contaminated hot tub was the culprit that took her husband’s life. Sandra plans to sue the company for $1.3 million.

“I do not believe the jacuzzi had been properly maintained and it had not been used for some time before our arrival,” Bermingham told MEAWW.

What Is Legionnaires' Disease?

traveler sues Airbnb
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Bermingham has engaged in a six-year-long legal battle with Airbnb since her husband’s death in 2016. A GoFundMe was set up to help her manage mounting legal fees as she pursues her case against the popular VRU company. Bermingham says the hot tub in the rental home was contaminated with bacteria that led to her husband’s demise.

“Paul only went in the hot tub once on New Year’s Eve and he was in the water for just seconds,” she said. “The bacteria is airborne and I believe he was infected soon after he checked in to the farmhouse.” 

Medical professionals determined Paul died as a result of Legionella pneumonia. A deadly lung infection caused by bacteria, Legionnaires’ disease is spread through water droplets. It cannot be transmitted from person to person and hot tubs are breeding grounds for the bacteria if they are not adequately cleaned. 

It’s rare that someone contracts Legionnaires’ disease at home. However, public places like hotels, spas, and hospitals can be hotspots for the bacteria to grow if proper sanitation is not enforced. In addition to hot tubs, humidifiers, air conditioners, and old showers could also harbor Legionella bacteria.

A Holiday Disaster

traveler sues Airbnb
Photo Courtesy of Brett Sayles.

The Bermingham family was visiting Gozo to celebrate the Christmas holiday. They were traveling with their children Darragh, 10, and Kate, 12, and, rented the Airbnb home for a two-week stay. The family had no idea their holiday vacation was about to turn into a nightmare. 

The home had a hot tub in one of the rooms and Paul decided to get in after they arrived. However, the water was too cold. Sandra said he was only in the tub for a few seconds. The children, who also used the hot tub, were not contaminated with the bacteria. 

When the Bermingham’s arrived home in Islington, North London, Paul fell ill. He was rushed to a local hospital where he was put into a medically induced coma. He never recovered and died from the illness. 

“The hospital did all it could but could not save him,” she said. “We were utterly distraught that he could be taken from us.”

Sandra and her family have been distraught since the death of her husband in 2016. Unable to bear the weight of the household, she was forced to move in with her brother and end her career as a make-up artist.

Little Response From Airbnb

The lack of response from Airbnb is causing Sandra and her family to become frustrated and discouraged. She says the company has ignored her claims and refused to compensate her family for the wrongful death of her husband. Additionally, she says Airbnb refuses to investigate the property containing the contaminated hot tub. 

“At every turn, they have tried to frustrate me and do not want to accept any liability for my husband’s death and the turmoil that has been caused in my family’s life,” she said. “On one occasion when I tried to speak with their lawyers I was told they were all on holiday. This is a major multi-billion-dollar company and they claim there was no one available to speak.”

She also says the Maltese government has been uncooperative in helping her get justice for the death of her husband by refusing to turn over test results from the contaminated hot tub. 

“I want the world to know how Airbnb works, making tons of money off our backs and waiving any responsibility when things go terribly wrong in the houses they earn their billions with,” she said. 

An Airbnb spokesperson released a statement saying, “We were heartbroken to learn of this tragic incident at the time and our thoughts remain with the Bermingham family following such an unimaginable loss. We remain in touch with the family’s representatives on this matter. The safety of our community is a priority and with more than one billion guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date, isolated incidents are exceptionally rare.”