Landlord, Others Face Lawsuit After Janitor Spread Disease By Tampering With Water Bottles
Two real estate companies are facing a $1M lawsuit alleging they were negligent when handling a bizarre, unprecedented situation: A janitor gave medical office building employees herpes by tampering with their water bottles.
Lucio Catarino Diaz, 50, is already facing a felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon related to him placing his genitals inside an employee’s water bottle at 1140 Westmont Drive in Houston, an act she caught on camera. Tenants in the 52K SF Westmont Medical Building include a chiropractic clinic, a pregnancy specialist center, and other doctors’ and medical offices.
The civil lawsuit was filed late last week by the woman who caught the janitor on hidden camera and eight others, all of whom worked at the office building and tested positive for Herpes Simplex Virus 1.
Plaintiffs are seeking relief of more than $1M, naming the owner and manager of the building, Altera East Houston and Aurum Property Partners, as defendants. Other defendants include Maintenance of Houston Inc. and J.A.M. Cleaning Services, which employed Diaz.
The case dates back to August, when employees began complaining of foul smells or tastes from the bottled water in their offices, the lawsuit states. They began bringing their own water bottles to work, and they would sometimes leave them on their desks overnight.
The plaintiff identified by initials as M.A. thought her water tasted like urine and tested it to be sure. The test came back positive, according to the lawsuit.
On Sept. 26, M.A. left a hidden camera in her office that showed Diaz purposely placing his genitals in contact with the water in a bottle on her desk. She contacted the police that night and talked to an employee of either a maintenance or property management company, although the lawsuit does not specify which.
The next day, M.A. texted and called Jerusha Jones of Aurum Property Partners, a commercial real estate company based in West Palm Beach, Florida. Jones responded that she received the video the same day.
M.A. said she told Jones that she would notify all employees, but Jones told her that property management would handle it. That evening, M.A. again saw Diaz assaulting her water bottle through her hidden camera.
Aurum allegedly waited six days to notify tenants about the potential water contamination.
"The consequences of these Defendants' failures are immense," the suit states, alleging that after coming into contact with Diaz' bodily fluids, all nine plaintiffs "have tested positive for incurable sexually transmitted diseases that will forever affect their lives."
Diaz was arrested in October and remains in custody in lieu of a $75K bond, court records show. He was infected with HSV-1 and chlamydia when arrested, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. His indictment names bodily fluids containing HSV-1 as the deadly weapon involved in the assault.
If convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a second-degree felony, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
The lawsuit alleges negligence by the property owners and management for failure to employ competent janitorial services, complete background checks, supervise or monitor janitorial staff to prevent the situation, and for not taking appropriate action when notified, among other accusations.
Dallas-based Altera Fund Advisors CEO Terry Quinn told Houston’s KTRK that the management company immediately cooperated with police:
"Our management company immediately cooperated with the police department in this matter as soon as we were made aware of this potential issue by our tenant. They were advised by the police to not alert or approach the alleged perpetrator so that he could be arrested. He was arrested when he returned to the building."
CORRECTION, JAN. 31, 1:52 P.M. CT: Two real estate firms named in the lawsuit have been subsequently dismissed from the suit as they had no ownership in the building at the time. The story has been updated.