NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The parents of a St. Bernard Parish man whose death in 2011 was linked to a rare brain-eating amoeba have settled their lawsuit against the manufacturers of two household devices that they blamed for their son's deadly infection.
Settlement terms weren't disclosed in a federal judge's order that dismissed the wrongful death suit on Oct. 15. Last year, Jeffrey Cusimano's parents sued NeilMed Pharmaceuticals Inc., maker of a "neti pot" that the 28-year-old used to clean his sinuses with water. They also sued Rheem Manufacturing Co., which made a water heater in his home.
Their suit claims defects in both devices allowed Cusimano to become infected by Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic organism that recently was found in St. Bernard Parish's water system. State health officials linked the same amoeba to the August 2013 death of a 4-year-old boy from Mississippi who was visiting a home in St. Bernard Parish.
Test results from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that Naegleria fowleri was found in the water supplies in St. Bernard Parish and part of DeSoto Parish, where the amoeba also caused the death of a 51-year-old woman in 2011. A total of 32 infections linked to the amoeba were reported in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010.
Although their case against the companies has been resolved, Patrice and Nunzio Cusimano filed a separate wrongful death suit against St. Bernard Parish in a state court earlier this month. Patrice Cusimano declined to be interviewed on Friday.
The state says swimming or diving in freshwater lakes and rivers is the most common way to be exposed to the deadly amoeba. Infections from other sources, such as heated tap water and swimming pool water that is inadequately chlorinated, are rare. Dr. Thomas Moore, a physician who treated Jeffrey Cusimano, testified that he believed Cusimano's infection was caused by his use of the neti pot with tap water. But in a court filing earlier this year, lawyers for NeilMed said Jeffrey Cusimano's parents couldn't prove that his use of the neti pot caused his death on June 7, 2011.
Lab tests on his neti pot didn't find any traces of the amoeba, they said. "Although the events leading up to Jeffrey Cusimano's death are tragic, NeilMed cannot be held responsible without evidence proving that a defect in its product was the proximate cause of the plaintiffs' damages," they wrote.
Tests found the amoeba in the water heater of the family's home, but Rheem attorneys said the product wasn't designed to sterilize water. "If bacteria, amoeba or other potentially harmful organisms enter the water heater, then after heating they will be 'delivered' to the end user," they wrote.