The Associated Press/US News reports that the family of a boy who died from carbon monoxide poisoning at a North Carolina Best Western hotel has settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $12 million, which includes separate claims by the boy's mother, who was seriously injured, and included settlement with other parties. The death allegedly occurred as a result of a leak from a defective pool heater that may have caused the deaths of other individuals in the room about six weeks before.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can easily go undetected and can cause serious injury or death. It results from the burning of gas, charcoal, and other fuels, and defects in home heating systems can result in leaks of the gas into living areas of homes, apartments, and hotels and motels. But it is also produced by many common items and appliances, including water heaters, cars, space heaters, grills, stoves, generators, and other products that burn fuel of some type. Carbon monoxide detectors are commonly available.
Carbon monoxide is harmful because it displaces oxygen in the blood, depriving the brain and other organs of the necessary means to function properly. The Mayo Clinic reports that symptoms include
- Dull headache
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta (CDC) provides educational materials on its web site about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. CDC statistics reveal 5,491 total deaths, an average of 450 deaths per year, in the United States from 1999 through 2010. The death rate was approximately three times as high for men as for women. In a separate article, the CDC reports on six carbon monoxide deaths, in two separate incidents caused by a propane stove and a gas grill, that occurred in southeast and central Georgia while the victims were camping. But the report notes that most victims are located in cars or residences.
In Georgia, an injury or death resulting from carbon monoxide poisoning may give rise to a personal injury or wrongful death claim. If the injury or death occurs on the premises of another person or corporation (or other entity), Georgia law may allow a claim for premises liability, which requires showing that the property owner (or occupier) had knowledge of the dangerous condition leading to the leakage of carbon monoxide, and that the person injured or killed did not have that knowledge. Knowledge, under Georgia premises liability law, does not have be be actual knowledge, however, and under certain circumstances the court will deem someone to have “constructive” knowledge if they should have known about the dangerous condition leading to the injury, which can sometimes be proven through evidence of the failure to properly inspect the property or based on other circumstances from which the property owner should have discovered the hazard.
If a defective product leads to the injury or death, Georgia law may also allow for a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the defective product, or sometimes the seller. This area of law is complex, but Georgia law allows, in appropriate cases, for product liability claims arising from defective design, defective manufacture or construction, and negligent failure to warn. Under the latter theory, a manufacturer may be liable if there is a known risk of danger or death and it fails to properly warn users of that danger.