Complications of CO Lawsuits

Michael Hersh, Managing Partner, Kelley | Uustal

Carbon monoxide – the “silent killer” – kills or injures thousands of people in the United States every year.  Being colorless, odorless and tasteless makes it largely undetectable and particularly dangerous.  Nonetheless, harm from carbon monoxide exposure is preventable. 

People are generally exposed to hazardous levels of CO when in confined spaces such as buildings, cars or boats, and when the source of the CO is defective, or the space is inadequately ventilated or improperly built.  Therefore, if the products we use and the buildings, cars and boats we occupy are properly designed, constructed and maintained, we should be safe from exposure to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. 

Today, most states have laws that require construction that protects occupants from harmful levels of CO.  In Florida, statute section 558.885 requires most new construction to include carbon monoxide alarms.  Carbon monoxide alarms detect CO and warn if hazardous levels are reached.  There is little reason for people to be injured by exposure to CO if buildings are adequately constructed and ventilated and equipped with CO alarms. 

Sources of CO, such as fuel-burning products, boats and cars, should also be made safely so that consumers are not exposed to dangerous levels of CO.  Product designers and manufacturers, if educated on carbon monoxide and its dangers, can design, make and sell products with appropriate warnings and with safeguards to prevent dangerous emissions of CO or hazardous ventilation. 

These safety rules and standards, when properly implemented, prevent harm and death from CO exposure. 

Why then does CO harm and kill people every year?  Because unfortunately, these rules, standards and safe practices are not always followed. 

People are typically harmed by hazardous levels of CO because someone made a terrible mistake.  For that reason, CO related injuries and death normally give way to lawsuits, and those lawsuits are especially complicated. 

There is no such thing as a formulaic or ordinary CO case.  CO cases arise from consumer product defects, improper design, faulty construction, flawed maintenance and ordinary negligence, among other things.  CO cases also involve a wide array of injuries, from disorientation to lost consciousness to memory deficits to cognitive impairment to hypoxia to death, and numerous health effects in between.  Proper handling of a CO case requires familiarity not only with the distinct type of liability and damages at issue in the case, but also with carbon monoxide and the unique issues presented in lawsuits involving CO. 

The same characteristics that make CO difficult to detect also make it difficult to test, handle and display.  Proving the existence, pathway and level of something we cannot see, taste or smell is tricky, to say the least.  CO cases are also made more complicated by often involving products or buildings that are not visibly damaged, and brain injuries that are not easily shown and described. Harm from CO exposure is avoidable, and when someone is killed or hurt by CO, an investigation is necessary to determine why and how it happened.  That investigation, and any case that follows, should be handled by a lawyer familiar with the complications that arise in CO cases.

carbon monoxideco poisoning

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