MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal class action with 1,480 named plaintiffs blames the United Nations for the cholera epidemic that killed 9,000 people and infected 700,000 more after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Lead plaintiff Marie LaVenture sued Tuesday on behalf of her parents, who died, "and those additional 1,479 plaintiffs or deceased parties whose representatives are plaintiffs" in Federal Court. Another woman filed similar claims
The class seeks damages at least equal to the $2.2 billion it estimates it will cost Haiti to eliminate the cholera that was brought by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.
Cholera is one of the most deadly communicable diseases in the world, though it can be prevented, and cured, by rehydration with clean water.
Unfortunately, in Haiti, there was no clean water after U.N. workers brought the disease and spread it by their negligent disposal of toxic human waste, according to the complaint.
The United Nations lists "diarrheal diseases" as the world's top killer among infectious diseases. It estimates that 1.9 million people a year die of such diseases.
Cholera has not much been a target for drug companies because communities that have no access to clean water generally cannot afford drugs.
In the lawsuit, LaVenture claims that studies "by the United Nations itself, showed definitively that the outbreak was caused by an Asian strain of cholera imported to Haiti by a Nepalese peacekeeping force. Although Nepal was in the midst of a cholera outbreak, none of the Nepalese peacekeepers were tested for cholera before being sent to Haiti."
The 68-page lawsuit reads like a Stephen King horror story.
Here is how it begins: "This class action arises out of an epidemic of cholera that broke out in Haiti in October 2010. At the time of this filing, the epidemic has killed at least 9,000 people and counting, and has sickened more than 700,000 others and counting in Haiti since 2010, and has resulted in cholera cases in at least the United States, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba. Mexico now has a sustained outbreak of cholera that has spread from Haiti. The epidemic still kills approximately 1,000 Haitians each year and sickens many thousands more. The cholera was inflicted on Haiti in October 2010, after an absence of more than 150 years. Forensic studies, including one by the United Nations itself, showed definitively that the outbreak was caused by an Asian strain of cholera imported to Haiti by a Nepalese peacekeeping force. Although Nepal was in the midst of a cholera outbreak, none of the Nepalese peacekeepers were tested for cholera before being sent to Haiti. In addition to seeking damages for deaths and illnesses, this complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that the UN is not immune from liability for the deaths it caused, and that the UN must abide by the claims process it agreed to set up to compensate for injuries it caused in Haiti."
After citing a study from the Centers for Disease Control, the complaint continues: "The Haitian cholera outbreak resulted from the negligent, reckless, and tortious conduct of the defendants: the United Nations ('UN'); its subsidiary, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti ('MINUSTAH'); and its officers. The United Nations disposed of cholera-infested human wastes in open pits next to Haiti's Artibonite River, Haiti's longest river and primary water source for tens of thousands of Haitians to use for drinking water. Proper disposal was discussed by the UN, but it ignored its own findings and dumped the wastes in a manner that was guaranteed to harm human beings.
"The cholera outbreak is directly attributable to the negligence, gross negligence, recklessness and deliberate indifference for the health and lives of Haiti's citizens by the United Nations ('UN') and its subsidiary, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti ('MINUSTAH'). ... Until MINUSTAH's actions incited the cholera outbreak, Haiti had not reported a single case of cholera for over 150 years."
LaVenture et al. seek class certification and compensatory and punitive damages, "including $2.2 billion that the Haitian government requires to eradicate cholera."
Their lead counsel is Stanley Alpert, of New York City.
Co-counsel includes James Haggerty, of New York City; Tim Howard, of Tallahassee, Fla.; and Richard Daynard, of Boston.