Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning happens when this odorless, colorless gas fills the air in an enclosed space and is then breathed in, where it adversely affects the intake of oxygen, resulting in death if the person does not get fresh air and medical treatment. Every year, over 200 people in the United States die from CO produced by fuel-burning appliances (furnaces, ranges, water heaters, room heaters). In many cases, these people have the right to sue for compensation from a landlord, builder, gas company, heating and air conditioning company and/or a manufacturer.
Liablility in these cases can involve complex issues of causation, proving that something a party did or did not do caused the CO poisoning incident. Each case is unique, and the parties responsible can include:
A property owner (e.g., a landlord or hotel owner);
A service professional (e.g., a heating contractor);
A builder; and/or
A manufacturer (CO poisoning from a defective product, including a carbon monoxide detector that does not give an alarm).
In a recent case, a boiler was incorrectly installed in a new house. When the new occupants moved in and turned on the boiler to heat the house, the boiler emitted high levels of carbon monoxide. The family’s teenage son went to bed and was found dead the next morning.
The above case involved a product that was defective because it was improperly installed. Some of these cases are caused by a product that is defective in design or manufacturing.
Under the doctrine of premises liability, owners of property are held responsible for injuries sustained while on the property. For example, if a landlord does not maintain a heating unit and the result is carbon monoxide poisoning, the landlord may be held liable. Premises liability covers all property owner, not just landlords. If your family member dies while at a summer camp, staying at a hotel, or staying at a friend’s house, you have the right to seek redress for your loss.
CO Poisoning Symptoms
Know the symptoms. At moderate levels, you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint. You can even die if these levels persist for a long time. Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause.
What to Do if You Suspect Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
If you experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning:
DO GET FRESH AIR IMMEDIATELY. Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances and leave the house.
DO GO TO AN EMERGENCY ROOM and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning. If CO poisoning has occurred, it can often be diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure.
Be prepared to answer the following questions for the doctor:
Do your symptoms occur only in the house? Do they disappear or decrease when you leave home and reappear when you return?
Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar symptoms? Did everyone’s symptoms appear about the same time?
Are you using any fuel-burning appliances in the home?
Has anyone inspected your appliances lately? Are you certain they are working properly?