By Shifra Dayak and Eric Neugeboren
The family of Olivia Paregol, a University of Maryland student who died in 2018 of complications from adenovirus, filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit Wednesday against the university and two former officials, claiming they were responsible for Paregol’s death.
The suit names former University Health Center director David McBride and former university President Wallace Loh in the suit, claiming they and the university failed to inform the university community about the virus’ presence on campus.
In the suit, Ian and Margaret Paregol — Olivia Paregol’s parents — sued the university on counts of negligence, civil conspiracy and wrongful death. They sued McBride and Loh on counts of gross negligence and civil conspiracy. The family also requested a jury trial.
“At this point, we really want to make sure that families are aware, as students are getting ready to move in, that there are perhaps new dangers in those very old buildings, that they’re entrusting the university with their children,” Ian Paregol told The Diamondback.
The university first became aware of a case of adenovirus on Nov. 1, 2018, but it did not notify the campus until Nov. 19, the day after Paregol died. By the end of the academic year, more than 40 students had contracted the virus.
Paregol was a freshman living in Elkton Hall when she contracted the virus. The dorm was among those hit by a mold outbreak in fall 2018. Experts have claimed mold cannot cause adenovirus, but it can generally increase the likelihood of a virus infection and cause respiratory irritation.
Adenovirus is a common illness that is often not serious for people with healthy immune systems — however, when Paregol contracted the virus, she was taking medication for Crohn’s disease that compromised her immune system.
The lawsuit — which seeks a total of $100.4 million in damages — states that due to the university, McBride and Loh’s failures to disclose the presence of adenovirus on campus, Olivia Paregol “suffered extensive conscious mental and physical pain and suffering” and a “frightening, painful and premature death.”
The Paregol family had previously taken steps to sue the university for its response, filing a notice of claim under the Maryland Tort Claims Act in May 2019. The family was in contact with the university, but talks were ultimately unproductive, leading the family to make the decision to file the suit, Ian Paregol told The Diamondback.
“We tried to have some conversations with the university, and they will not accept any kind of responsibility for this purposeful pattern of negligence,” he said.
In a statement, the university said it “grieves the loss of our student Olivia Paregol, and we continue to keep her friends and family in our thoughts.” The university declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing its policy to not comment on ongoing litigation.
In May 2018, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called for an investigation into the university’s handling of the virus outbreak.
The investigation — led by a five-person panel named by the University System of Maryland — ultimately found that the school complied with state, federal and campus protocols but faltered in its communication.
The five-person panel, which reviewed over 25,000 pages of documents and interviewed more than a dozen people, said there was miscommunication between departments across the university during the response. For instance, the health center had handled the adenovirus outbreak, while Residential Facilities addressed the mold outbreak.
The panel found the university did not appear to have a “mature culture of emergency management” across the campus.
In a report, the panel made recommendations to the university regarding crisis preparedness, mold in buildings and adenovirus. The recommendations included proper incident management training for staff, looking into installing new air supply systems inside buildings and more closely monitoring health trends on campus.
But Ian Paregol said these recommendations were not enough, nor were they put into action.
“Even in spite of that self-serving report, there are still 14 pages of recommendations on things that should be done,” he said. “To that end, we don’t see that any of this stuff has been done.”
Since Paregol’s death, the university has taken steps to reduce the presence of mold on campus. In the summer after her death, Residential Facilities finished a “moisture control plan,” which included installing dehumidifiers in dorms and fraternity and sorority chapter houses previously affected by mold.
However, according to Ian Paregol, the university did a “rather shoddy, perfunctory job” with mold management. Several individuals continued to complain of mold issues, including in the university’s anthropology building.
Now, as the Paregol family waits to see how the lawsuit progresses, they hope to hold officials accountable for their daughter’s death, Ian Paregol said. Their goal — especially as the COVID-19 pandemic poses yet another public health risk on the campus — is to raise awareness among families at this university.
“Many times [parents] just trust … that the university is seeing to it that their children are safe and healthy, and that’s just not the case,” he said. “I think that parents need to know what went on in 2018 and what is likely to go on now with this new world of coronavirus.”