Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

An average of 162 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning related to their use of consumer products. This number may seem insignificant relative to the large number of deaths that result from other causes, but carbon monoxide deaths are highly preventable. Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when a fuel-burning appliance malfunctions due to improper installation or insufficient ventilation, releasing dangerous levels of carbon monoxide into the air. The carbon monoxide is inhaled and enters the victim's bloodstream where it interferes with the body's ability to transport and use oxygen. At low levels, carbon monoxide poisoning causes headache, fatigue, nausea, and confusion. As the carbon monoxide poisoning grows more severe, symptoms can worsen to include loss of consciousness, coma, and death.

Heating systems including natural and LP gas, kerosene, oil, coal, and wood furnaces cause a large percentage of carbon monoxide poisoning cases each year. When these appliances are not properly maintained and ventilated or lack working exhaust pathways, they can emit carbon monoxide. Kerosene, oil, coal, and wood burning appliances will emit smoke if they are producing large amounts of carbon monoxide, but natural and LP gas furnaces do not. Thus, many victims have no warning when their natural or LP gas furnace releases carbon monoxide.

Engine-driven appliances also account for a large proportion of carbon monoxide deaths. Generators, riding mowers, snow blowers, and other tools emit dangerous levels of carbon monoxide even when functioning properly, so they must always be used in well-ventilated areas.

Who Is At Fault?

When a tenant suffers carbon monoxide poisoning in a rented home, his or her landlord may be liable.

The following are examples of circumstances in which landlords have been found to be liable for injuries caused by carbon monoxide poisoning:

  1. The carbon monoxide poisoning was caused by the landlord's failure to repair or perform maintenance on an appliance or pipe in an area over which the landlord has control. An example of this would be a tenant in an apartment building suffering carbon monoxide poisoning from a furnace located in the basement of her building that her landlord has access to but she does not.
  2. The landlord agreed to repair an appliance, pipe, or other device located within the tenant's rental unit but either failed to do so or did so improperly.
  3. The landlord had agreed within the lease to perform all checkups, maintenance, and repair on all appliances that might emit carbon monoxide.

In addition to landlords, other parties may be liable in cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. If the malfunction that led to the release of carbon monoxide was a flaw in the design or construction of the device, the manufacturer of that device might be liable. For example, some boilers or furnaces are designed to automatically shut off when they detect high levels of carbon monoxide. If this is an advertised feature of a device and yet the device does not shut off, it is likely the device has either a manufacturing or design defect. A victim can also claim negligence on the part of the contractors who installed the appliance or heating and ventilation system. Additionally, the county in which the poisoning incident occurred can be held liable. If the faulty appliance is inspected by the county or other local government and deemed up to code when it is in fact dangerous, then the county or local government may also be liable.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

If you believe you have fallen victim to carbon monoxide poisoning, the attorneys at Abramson & O'Connell are available to consult with you and help determine if pursing legal action is the right choice for you.