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October 31, 2023

Can Californians Sue for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Legally reviewed by: Jessica Anvar Stotz, JD, MBA

Short Answer: Yes, Californians can sue for Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning is a serious issue that can lead to severe health complications or even death. In California, if you or a loved one has suffered from CO poisoning due to someone else’s negligence, you could have the legal right to bring forth a claim.

The average payout for carbon monoxide poisoning lawsuits varies widely, as every claim is unique and depends on factors such as the extent of exposure, level of CO in the blood, and the short and long-term impact of injuries. Here are some key facts and statistics about carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States:

  • Each year, more than 400 people in the United States die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning and more than 20,000 are seen in the emergency room. Annually, over 4,000 are hospitalized.
  • In California, carbon monoxide deaths occur most frequently during cold winter months- with the highest number of fatalities among those aged 65 and older.
  • Poisoning is measured in a range called parts per million (ppm) and when levels of carbon monoxide reach 150 ppm, people can become disoriented and collapse.
  • More than 400 Americans die from unintended carbon monoxide poisoning each year, making it the leading cause of death by poisoning in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
  • A new report shows an upward trend in non-fire carbon monoxide poisoning deaths. For 2019, there were an estimated 250 consumer product-related CO deaths in the United States – greater than any other year in the report.

If you have been affected by carbon monoxide poisoning, connecting with a legal professional can be a crucial step towards seeking justice and compensation.

Can You Sue Your Employer for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Yes, in California, you can sue your employer for carbon monoxide poisoning. To build a successful claim, you must be able to prove that the employer’s action (or inaction) was careless and caused or contributed to the harmful situation.

Employers are responsible for providing a safe work environment. This includes ensuring that the workplace is free from harmful levels of carbon monoxide. If an employer fails to take reasonable steps to prevent carbon monoxide exposure and an employee suffers from carbon monoxide poisoning as a result, the employer could be held liable.

Note that workers’ compensation laws in California may limit an employee’s ability to sue their employer directly for injuries sustained on the job. In many cases, workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries- this means that an employee cannot sue their employer for a workplace injury but must instead file a workers’ compensation claim.

In many cases, landlords, manufacturers, property owners, and companies that install carbon monoxide equipment are at fault. If carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by the negligence of other parties, such as a property owner or an employer, you can sue the negligent party for damages caused by the exposure.

Can You Sue Your Landlord for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Yes, in California, you can sue your landlord for carbon monoxide poisoning. To build a successful claim, you must be able to prove that the landlord’s action (or inaction) was careless and caused or contributed to the harmful situation.

Landlords are liable for a tenant’s injuries from carbon monoxide poisoning in some—but not all—situations. Unsafe levels of carbon monoxide can accumulate when items such as gas appliances (ranges and water heaters), chimneys, and heating systems malfunction or are not properly ventilated.

Landlords can greatly reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning by installing carbon monoxide detectors and performing regular maintenance. When landlords implement a reasonable maintenance program and follow applicable state and local laws, they increase the chances of not only preventing accidents, but in the case that one does occur, the landlord won’t be held legally responsible for tenants’ injuries.

Laws About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in California

The Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act

The Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act of 2010 (SB 183) was passed to protect people by making it a requirement that property owners install CO detectors in apartments, homes, hotels, and condominiums that contain fossil fuel–burning furnaces, heaters or appliances, or that have an attached garage.

This law (Cal. Health & Safety Code § 13261) codified the state’s building code that all ‘dwelling units intended for human occupancy’ be required to have a carbon monoxide detector. One carbon monoxide detector is recommended for each level of the home and in each sleeping area.

Example Carbon Monoxide Cases

  1. In 2021, a law firm specializing in personal injury cases secured a settlement of $125,000 from a landlord due to injuries from a carbon monoxide poisoning incident. The basis for liability was the landlord’s negligence, which led to the carbon monoxide leak because of poor maintenance of a hot water heater. Furthermore, the carbon monoxide detectors installed by the landlord were not functioning as they should.
  2. The parents of an 11-year-old boy received a $12 million settlement for a carbon monoxide wrongful death lawsuit against the Best Western Hotel chain and the local management. The boy died due to carbon monoxide poisoning at a Best Western hotel. His mother also suffered serious injuries due to the incident. The family claimed that state officials failed to properly inspect the hotel or warn the public that another couple had succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning in the same hotel room two months before their son. The settlement amount with the state was $100,000.
  3. Carbon monoxide attorneys obtained a settlement of $4 million for a couple in their early 60’s who were exposed to low levels of carbon monoxide for several months.

carbon monoxide damages for californians

Types of Compensation Available for Injured Victims

Victims of carbon monoxide poisoning in California may be eligible for various types of compensation. These include:

  • Medical Expenses: This includes past and future medical expenses, such as emergency room visits, hospital stays, and treatments with oxygen or hyperbaric chambers.
  • Lost Wages: If the victim had to miss work due to the poisoning, they could be compensated for the wages they lost during that time.
  • Loss of Earning Capacity: If the poisoning has long-term effects that prevent the victim from working or earning as much as they did before the incident, they could be compensated for this loss.
  • Pain and Suffering: This refers to the physical pain and emotional distress suffered by the victim due to the poisoning.
  • Mental Anguish: This refers to the psychological impact of the incident, such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Loss of Consortium: If the victim’s relationship with their spouse or family has been negatively affected by the incident, they could be compensated for this loss.
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life: If the victim’s ability to enjoy life and participate in activities they once enjoyed has been diminished due to the poisoning, they could be compensated for this loss.

Note that this information is intended to be general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney.

carbon monoxide sources

Common Causes of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Here are some common causes of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning:

  • Fires: Fires can produce a large amount of carbon monoxide.
  • Gasoline Powered Generators: These can emit carbon monoxide if not properly ventilated.
  • Indoor Charcoal Grills: Using charcoal grills indoors can lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide.
  • Combustion Fumes: Inhalation of combustion fumes can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Methylene Chloride Inhalation: This chemical can also lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Poorly Ventilated Appliances and Engines: Appliances and engines that burn fuels like gas, wood, propane, or charcoal can cause carbon monoxide buildup if they are not well vented.
  • Tightly Enclosed Spaces: These can exacerbate the buildup of carbon monoxide.
  • Running Car in a Closed Garage: Leaving a car running in a closed garage can lead to a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide.
  • Burning Charcoal in Poorly Ventilated Environment: This can lead to high levels of carbon monoxide.
  • Certain Paint Removers and Cleaning Fluids: The fumes from certain paint removers and cleaning fluids can contain carbon monoxide.
  • Gas Appliances and Wood-Burning Fireplaces: These are common sources of carbon monoxide in homes.
  • Idling Cars: Cars that are left idling for extended periods can produce carbon monoxide.

CO is an invisible, colorless, and odorless gas, which makes it particularly dangerous as it is difficult to detect without proper equipment. Be sure to have functional CO detectors at home and ensure good ventilation when using fuel-burning devices. If you suspect CO poisoning, seek medical attention immediately.

What Evidence is Needed to Prove Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

In California, proving Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning involves several steps:

  1. Medical Evidence: A blood test can be used to prove CO poisoning. If a person has been exposed to high levels of CO, their bloodstream will contain elevated levels of carboxyhemoglobin (COHb), a compound that forms when CO binds with hemoglobin in the blood.
  2. Symptoms: Recognizing the symptoms of CO poisoning is crucial. These may include persistent headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness.
  3. CO Levels in the Environment: Confirmatory exposure evidence can be obtained through a dedicated or multi-gas meter/instrument. This could be a notation from the fire department or an alarm from a CO detector.
  4. CO Detectors: State law requires the installation of CO detectors in dwellings with heating systems and appliances that use fossil fuels. If these detectors sound an alarm, it can serve as possible exposure evidence.
  5. State Requirements: The state of California has specific requirements for CO detectors in rental/leased units. Owners are required to install, repair, maintain, and test the CO devices.

If you suspect CO poisoning, find fresh air and seek emergency medical care immediately.

When You DO and When You DO NOT have a claim

When You DO Have a Claim in California for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

In California, you may have a claim for Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning if you can provide the following evidence:

  1. Medical Evidence: A blood test showing elevated levels of carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) in your bloodstream.
  2. Symptoms: Documented symptoms of CO poisoning, such as persistent headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness.
  3. CO Levels in the Environment: Evidence of high CO levels in your environment from a dedicated or multi-gas meter/instrument.
  4. Faulty Appliances or Systems: If a faulty or improperly labeled product, such as an appliance or heating system, caused harm through CO poisoning, the manufacturer or retailer might be liable.
  5. Landlord Negligence: If you’re a tenant and suffered CO poisoning due to your landlord’s negligence in maintaining appliances or not installing CO detectors, they could be held liable.

When You DO NOT Have a Claim in California for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning:

You may not have a claim for CO poisoning in California if:

  1. No Negligence: There was no negligence on the part of another party. For instance, if the CO exposure was due to unforeseeable circumstances that could not have been prevented by reasonable care.
  2. Statute of Limitations: The statute of limitations has passed. In California, a plaintiff has three years from the date of injury to make a claim.
  3. No Proof of Harm: You cannot provide medical evidence or show symptoms consistent with CO poisoning.
  4. No High Levels of CO: There is no evidence of high levels of CO in your environment.
  5. Insurance Exclusions: Certain insurance policies may exclude coverage for injuries caused by pollutants like carbon monoxide.

Please note that this is general advice, it is always best to consult with a legal professional if you believe you have a claim related to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Why Hiring a Lawyer Can Be Crucial in Order to Obtain a Settlement

Hiring a lawyer can be crucial for obtaining a settlement for several reasons:

  • Understanding of the Legal System: The legal system can be complex and intimidating, with volumes of laws, regulations, and procedures. Lawyers have spent years studying the law and are equipped with the expertise to understand your case, identify any potential issues, and develop an effective strategy to protect your rights.
  • Advocacy and Representation: One of the primary roles of a lawyer is to act as an advocate for their clients. They will represent your best interests and fight for your rights in court or during negotiations.
  • Legal Support and Guidance: Lawyers can provide valuable support and guidance during an emotionally charged case. They can offer a rational perspective, help you understand the potential outcomes, and advise you on the best course of action.
  • Negotiating Settlements: Your attorney can negotiate settlements or plea bargains on your behalf, helping you to understand the time limit for making claims and working with you to get the best possible outcome in your case.
  • Handling Legal Paperwork: Lawyers can handle all the legal paperwork and procedures on your behalf, relieving you of the burden and stress. This allows you to focus on other important aspects of your life while knowing that your case is in capable hands.
  • Dispelling Common Misconceptions: One common misconception about hiring a lawyer is that it is only necessary for wealthy individuals or large corporations. In reality, lawyers work with clients from all walks of life and offer various fee structures to accommodate different budgets.

Hiring a lawyer is crucial for your case as they bring expertise, advocacy, legal support, and guidance to the table. Despite common misconceptions about cost and necessity, their assistance can be invaluable in obtaining a favorable settlement in your carbon monoxide case.

Get Connected with a Lawyer

Finding legal help in California can be incredibly challenging, thankfully, our team at LawLinq can simplify that process for you, at no cost or obligation. LawLinq not only ensures that all member lawyers meet high membership standards but also equips them with efficient case management tools. This guarantees that the lawyers are well-prepared to handle your case effectively.

With just a phone call or a few clicks on our website, you can get connected to a lawyer who is qualified to handle your specific legal needs. If you are seeking legal help in California, consider reaching out to LawLinq for a free lawyer referral today.

About the Author

Jessica Anvar

California Consumer Litigation Attorney Jessica Anvar, Esq. is the Founder and Managing Partner of Lemon Law Experts California’s leading lemon law firm. She has multiple years’ worth of experience working with both state and federal lemon laws. Her practice focuses exclusively on consumer protection cases. Ms. Anvar received her J.D. from Loyola Law School. She also earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Loyola Marymount University. Jessica is very active in her local legal community and has helped thousands of clients across the state of California. She has an outstanding record as a true advocate for consumers.

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