Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Who Is Liable?

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Who Is Liable?

As a colorless and odorless gas, carbon monoxide is produced by burning fuel, such as natural gas, fuel oil, coal, wood, and charcoal. Unfortunately, exposure to the gas can cause serious side effects that can result in lasting injuries and even death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of 2,244 fatalities were caused from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning between 2010 and 2015, with the highest numbers of deaths each year occurring during the winter season. In 2015, a total of 393 deaths occurred due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, with 36 percent of the fatalities happening in December, January, or February.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can also give rise to personal injury lawsuits in certain situations. But who can be held liable for this type of injury?

The answer, landlords and businesses. These entities are legally required to take reasonable steps to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning from happening on the property. Standard safety precautions may include certain preventative actions such as conducting regular tests, installing carbon monoxide detectors, and complying with building codes and safety regulations. For instance, California landlords are responsible for installing a carbon monoxide detector outside of each bedroom in most apartment buildings, as well as testing and repairing the device.

So, for example, if a tenant’s carbon monoxide exposure is caused by the landlord’s failure to maintain or repair a furnace, pipe or another device in an area exposed the tenant to carbon monoxide, then the landlord can be held liable for the tenant’s injury. If a city ordinance makes it mandatory for the landlord to conduct an inspection and repair appliances or devices that may expose a tenant to carbon monoxide and the landlord fails to do so, that situation can result in a personal injury lawsuit.

By contrast, if a tenant’s exposure to carbon monoxide resulted from a malfunctioning appliance on his/her property, and it wasn't defective when the tenancy started, then landlord liability is less clear. In other words, if your landlord didn’t violate any laws or regulations, and was unaware of the defective device, then he/she is not liable for any resulting injuries or deaths caused by carbon monoxide exposure. However, in cases involving defective appliances, the manufacturer of the device may be held liable.

For more information about carbon monoxide poisoning cases, contact our San Jose personal injury lawyer at Caputo & Van Der Walde LLP today.

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