Carbon monoxide poisoning results in approximately 25,000 emergency room visits each year. In addition, approximately 400 individuals are killed by the dangerous gas. This gas is a common thing to encounter in today’s world—from cars, charcoal grills, and heaters in homes. When an individual is injured by carbon monoxide poisoning, the law may be able to offer redress for medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering experienced.
What Exactly Is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a nearly undetectable gas that is very dangerous to people and animals. It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, meaning it is virtually impossible to know you are breathing in too much carbon monoxide until you start to feel its effects. Carbon monoxide is largely the “residue” that is left over from burning other material, just like ash or soot. Common sources of carbon monoxide are car engines and heaters in homes. Carbon monoxide can also be formed inside a person’s body when other dangerous chemicals are inhaled. For instance, when an individual inhales fumes from paint stripper or degreaser, the body will break down these chemicals to attempt to avoid becoming poisoned by them. Unfortunately, a component of these fumes is carbon monoxide—something the body can’t breakdown on its own. This means that breathing these fumes will generally result in carbon monoxide poisoning, rather than poisoning from the fumes themselves.
When a person breathes in carbon monoxide, the gas is passed into the blood stream through the lungs. The effects depend on how much of the gas is breathed in. When only a small amount is breathed in, the person will not feel any effects at all until 2-3 hours of constant exposure. Even then, the symptoms are only headaches and dizziness that are treated by moving into fresh air. When carbon monoxide is in large volumes the effects can come on quickly. In as little as two minutes an individual can become extremely dizzy. After prolonged exposure, an individual can pass out from having too much carbon monoxide in his or her blood stream. This kind of extreme exposure to carbon monoxide can cause serious damage to the nervous system, resulting in seizures, problems with speech, and even death.
What Legal Claims Exist To Redress Injuries Caused By Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
The source of the carbon monoxide will largely determine what type of legal claim is available to the injured party. When the carbon monoxide comes for a machine or device, the first place to begin is with a product liability claim. In Kansas, all products sold must be free from “legal” defects. A product is defective if it fails to adhere to its design. For example, a gas furnace that has a cracked heat exchanger will leak dangerous gas. The heat exchangers are designed to be airtight, so any crack is unintentional and is thus a manufacturing defect. The law doesn’t care how or why the defect exists; there is no need to show that the carelessness of an employee caused the crack. Instead, the fact that a defective product—here, the furnace—was sold is what these claims seek to redress. A product may be perfectly manufactured, but defective in its design. In these cases, the product design results in an unreasonably dangerous product beyond what a consumer would expect. An example would be a car engine allows carbon monoxide to slowly enter the interior of the vehicle. This is unreasonable dangerous and could be easily corrected by diverting the gas through an exhaust system (as all cars do). Finally, a product can be defective if it lacks adequate warnings concerning non-obvious dangers. A charcoal grill is a good example of this. A grill would likely not require a warning that the grate and coals will become very hot because this is an obvious danger. However, the grill will likely need to warn that using the grill in an enclosed or semi-enclosed space, such as a garage, is dangerous because of the carbon monoxide that will be emitted by the burning coals.
In some circumstances, an individual may be responsible for a carbon monoxide leak. For example, a property owner can be responsible for carbon monoxide leaks. A property owner is required to exercise reasonable care to prevent guests on the property from being injured by dangerous conditions of the property. One example of this is a landlord. In Miller v. Wichita Gas Co., a resident of a small apartment building suffered carbon monoxide poisoning when the heater for the building leaked. The residents of the building had complained about the heater malfunctioning several times, placing the landlord on notice that the heater may not be properly working. When the landlord decided to ignore the complaints and not service the heater, he took on any potential liability for harmed caused by the heater. A homeowner may also be liable if they fail to provide carbon monoxide detectors and a guest is injured.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can result in very serious injuries, including death when exposure is prolonged. Machines that produce this dangerous gas must be properly made to protect consumers. Additionally, property owners must ensure that property is safe for guests and residents, including preventing residential heaters from emitting carbon monoxide. If you have been injured from carbon monoxide poisoning, contacting a capable attorney is essential. This can ensure that you are able to achieve the legal redress you deserve for your injuries caused by another’s neglect.