Simple routine maintenance might eliminate up to 90 percent of the carbon monoxide poisonings in America’s schools, yet high CO levels are a persistent and deadly problem.

Most states do not require carbon monoxide detectors in schools, apartment buildings, or any other structures. The most recent federal law in this area, the Nicholas and Zachary Burt Memorial Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act of 2021, encourages states to adopt tougher standards, but does not require the use of CO detectors. Faulty boilers, generators, heaters and other fuel-burning sources usually cause dangerously high CO levels.

According to the CDC, unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning kills more than 400 Americans each year and sends 20,000 to hospital emergency rooms. 

Effects of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

CO is an invisible, odorless gas that is nearly impossible to detect without the proper equipment. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. CO symptoms are often described as flu-like and breathing high amounts of carbon monoxide can be fatal. Carbon monoxide is especially dangerous in homes. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they are unaware of symptoms. Poor ventilation, even in schools and other relatively open buildings, often causes unsafe CO gas buildup.

Inhaling carbon monoxide is akin to smoke inhalation during fires; CO replaces oxygen in the body’s red blood cells. If that happens, oxygen-starved tissues and organs quickly begin shutting down. 

Mostly because they breathe faster than adults, children are at a higher risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Other at-risk people include:

  • Older Adults: The effects of CO poisoning are worse for people over 65. These individuals are more likely to develop brain damage.
  • Unborn Children: Fetal red blood cells soak up carbon monoxide much faster than the red blood cells in children or adults. As a result, unborn babies are more susceptible to harmful carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Heart Patients: Cardiovascular issues, like anemia and breathing problems, are more likely to get sick from exposure to carbon monoxide.

CO levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold of 9 ppm can cause injury in as little as eight hours, while high CO levels are fatal in under five minutes.

Building a Case

Public and private property owners usually have a duty of reasonable care to provide a safe environment and conduct regular safety inspections. This high duty of care applies if the victim is an invitee. Invitees are people who have permission to be on the property and who benefit the owner. 

Additionally, a New York personal injury lawyer must prove the landowner knew, or should have known, about the injury-causing hazard. This element is often difficult to prove in carbon monoxide poisoning cases. If a landowner doesn’t have a CO detector, that doesn’t mean they knew the CO level was dangerously high.

Assumption of the risk is one of the most common defenses in these cases. If a student goes on a field trip and gets sick because of high CO levels on the bus, the permission slip/liability waiver doesn’t absolve the school district. The assumption of the risk defense only applies if the victim voluntarily assumed a known risk. Most likely, the student voluntarily went on the field trip but was not aware of the risk of CO poisoning.

Procedural Issues

For the most part, New York has waived its sovereign immunity, which means that victims who are injured in schools or other public buildings can sue the city, county, state, or whoever controlled that building. However, some procedural hurdles remain.

For example, in these cases, a New York personal injury attorney must normally file a notice of claim before filing court paperwork. The notice gives the school district or other defendant a chance to settle the matter quietly out of court. These settlement negotiations often do not bear fruit. The defendant doesn’t have a duty to negotiate in good faith. Low-ball and “take it or leave it” offers are common.

Injury victims are entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We handle injury claims on a nationwide basis.