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Legionella coverage in the UK public liability insurance market: Disease, pollution or excluded?


Publication date:

18 August 2020

Last updated:

18 December 2023


Stuart Stead

The ways in which Legionnaires’ disease could be recognised in public liability policy wordings.

What is Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaires’ disease (as well as Pontiac fever) is a severe form of pneumonia that is caused by Legionella pneumphila bacteria. The disease can be fatal. Legionella bacteria thrive in natural water such as lakes, rivers, reservoirs and ponds but are also found in purpose-built water systems such as swimming pools, hot tubs/spas, cooling towers and hot and cold-water systems.


Who does it affect?

Legionnaires’ disease can affect anyone, but people at a higher risk of contracting the disease are those aged over 45 years of age, smokers and heavy drinkers. In addition people who have severe respiratory problems, kidney heart or lung disease, diabetes and those with a low immune system are at a higher risk, although Legionnaires’ disease only affects around 1-2% of those exposed to the bacteria. During the period 2014-2016 there were 1,070 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease reported in England and Wales and of these cases there were 77 deaths.


How is Legionnaires’ disease contracted?

Legionnaires’ disease can be contracted by the inhalation of water droplets dispersed into the air which contain the Legionella bacteria. For example, spray, mists and aerosols of water droplets from showers, hot tubs, spas, etc where the water in them is warm which will cause these types of environments. The conditions for the growth of the bacteria need to be right and such conditions increase the risk of growth when the temperature within the water systems are between 20°C and 45°C, and where water is stored and recirculated and the disbursement of spray, mists and aerosols as described above is possible.

The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA) and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulation 2002 (COSHH) impose duties on employers to identify and risk assess the exposures to Legionnaires’ disease and to ensure that such bacteria growth is either prevented or controlled.

In summary, if water systems are left untreated and the conditions are right then the Legionella bacteria can grow. In turn, when introduced to the target audience at highest risk who are exposed to the inhalation of the water droplets containing the bacteria, there is a risk of contracting the potentially fatal
Legionnaires’ disease.


Researching the UK public liability insurance market

This dissertation interrogates the UK public liability insurance market’s standard policy wordings and how these would deal with a Legionella related loss, but also includes numerous discussions with insurers and their underwriters around their own interpretation of their wordings as there is very little written on the subject. The outcomes I came across from the research undertaken were varied in terms of each insurer’s individual response and this dissertation attempts to bring about some clarity around what Legionella actually is, whether insurance companies policy wordings are actually broad enough to deal with all types of outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease and what solutions are available to afford peace of mind to policyholders by way of best cover.


Read the dissertation HERE

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This document is believed to be accurate but is not intended as a basis of knowledge upon which advice can be given. Neither the author (personal or corporate), the CII group, local institute or Society, or any of the officers or employees of those organisations accept any responsibility for any loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of the data or opinions included in this material. Opinions expressed are those of the author or authors and not necessarily those of the CII group, local institutes, or Societies.