Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless gas and the leading cause of non-drug accidental poisonings in the United States (according to America Poisoning Fact Sheet). This gas is difficult to detect without a carbon monoxide detector. The symptoms make it almost impossible to recognize the danger you are in until it is too late.

CO poisoning can occur any time you breathe in the exhaust from burning fuel, including:

  • Natural gas
  • Gasoline
  • Propane
  • Kerosene
  • Other heating fuels
  • Burning firewood
  • Other combustible materials
carbon monoxide poisoning lawyer
If you required treatment after carbon monoxide exposure or if you lost a loved one to carbon monoxide poisoning, you may be eligible to join others in taking legal action in this type of case.

As a part of premises liability law, stores, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, and other facilities with possible CO sources onsite must protect customers from exposure. They must meet strict local codes for venting and should have carbon monoxide detectors in place in case a problem develops. Failure to do so could result in illness, and the property owner or occupier might be legally liable. A carbon monoxide poisoning lawyer can help you determine the at-fault party.

In addition to venues and facilities, other companies might be liable in this type of case. Manufacturers of products that produce carbon monoxide must be careful to ensure their design does not expose users to large amounts of the gas and that the products come with adequate warnings about the risks. A carbon monoxide poisoning lawyer can help you determine if adequate warnings were provided.

These manufacturers could include companies that make products such as:

  • Grills
  • Heaters
  • Lanterns
  • Motorcycles
  • Lawnmowers
  • Keyless ignition/electric-start cars and other motor vehicles

Keyless ignition cars can easily be left running in a closed garage, putting people at an increased risk. These push-button start vehicles allow you to take your keys with you but leave the electric-start ignition “on.” Several auto manufacturers already face legal action related to deaths and injuries caused by CO poisoning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s CO Poisoning Prevention reports that around 500 people die in the United States each year from carbon monoxide poisoning. Many others require treatment. If you suffered injuries caused by carbon monoxide exposure or if a member of your family passed away, you may be eligible to take legal action. A carbon monoxide poisoning lawyer can help.

The Newsome Melton team is reviewing carbon monoxide poisoning cases related to keyless ignition vehicles and other causes now. Call us today at (888) 808-5977 for your complimentary consultation with a carbon monoxide poisoning lawyer.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that is the leading cause of non-drug poisoning every year in the United States. The victims usually do not even know they are being poisoned because the gas is odorless, tasteless, and invisible.

A carbon monoxide molecule includes one carbon atom and one oxygen atom, giving way to the chemical formula CO. Carbon monoxide is a waste product produced during the burning of a carbon-based fuel source, and is common in fumes such as automobile exhaust. Other sources include:

  • Small gasoline engines like lawn equipment
  • Gas stoves
  • Kerosene lamps
  • Space heaters
  • Generators
  • Home furnaces

Almost any type of combustible material can create carbon monoxide fumes. This includes:

  • Gasoline
  • Kerosene
  • Wood
  • Charcoal
  • Propane
  • Coal

While carbon monoxide exists in the air we breathe every day, the concentration is low. Automobile exhaust and volcanoes are top contributors. When there is a CO source in a small, enclosed area such as a home, breathing in the gas becomes dangerous. Prolonged exposure to high levels can cause gas-poisoning symptoms, temporary or permanent injuries (including brain damage), and death. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are hundreds of deaths related to carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States each year. In addition, more than 20,000 victims go to the emergency department or otherwise seek emergency medical care for carbon monoxide exposure. About 4,000 require hospitalization for their injuries.

While CO poisoning can affect anyone, some groups are more at risk than others. Even young and healthy people pass away as a result of exposure to high levels of the gas. You may be more likely to suffer lasting injuries or pass away from CO exposure if:

  • You live at a high altitude
  • You have chronic heart disease
  • You have anemia or other blood conditions
  • You have pre-existing respiratory problems
  • You smoke cigarettes or other tobacco products
  • You are over the age of 65

Unborn babies, infants, and young children are also at an increased risk from carbon monoxide exposure.

In general, most fuel-burning appliances, devices, and other items are safe when used correctly. However, improper venting, defective designs, or inadequate warnings can lead to carbon monoxide exposure and possible injury.

Cars and other vehicles left running in a garage or any other enclosed area are also hazardous because of the possibility of carbon monoxide exposure. Cars with a push-button start option and keyless ignition may increase the risk of poisoning as the engine might remain on even once the car is parked and the fob has been removed, exposing you and your family to toxic levels of carbon monoxide.

How Do You Get Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

You can get carbon monoxide poisoning when you are exposed to a high concentration of the gas or a moderate concentration over a longer period of time.  Carbon monoxide concentration occurs where there is:

  • A source of the gas; and
  • An enclosed space

Natural gas-powered appliances, fuel-burning heaters, and engines are all common sources of carbon monoxide exposure. There are many sources of this gas in your home, including:

  • Space heaters
  • Furnaces
  • Charcoal and wood grills
  • Gas ovens and cooktops
  • Gas water heaters
  • Fireplaces
  • Generators
  • Wood-burning stoves
  • Car engines
  • Small, gas-powered engines like lawn equipment

As for the small space, your home is likely small enough to allow a moderate or high concentration of carbon monoxide to build up over time. Your garage provides an even smaller space, and the fumes from a running vehicle can overcome someone quickly in this area. The fumes can also permeate into the home, poisoning your loved ones as they sleep.

It is important to never start your car in a closed garage and never leave your car running in an attached garage, even with the door open.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of deaths and serious injuries that occurred as a result of people accidentally leaving their vehicle with a push-button start running after parking the car in the garage. They take the keys inside, but the vehicle remains “on” and producing exhaust fumes. The attached garage fills with hazardous fumes, then the rest of the house. Several car companies currently face lawsuits as a result of this type of situation.

When it comes to heating your home, it is imperative that you only use natural gas-powered appliances for their intended purpose. Using a gas oven to keep your kitchen warm, for example, could expose your family to carbon monoxide. Other potential risks include:

  • A poorly maintained or vented furnace
  • Fuel-burning space heaters without adequate ventilation
  • Fireplaces with a blocked chimney or flue
  • Generators in a basement, garage, or another enclosed space

Grills, camp stoves, and other cooking devices designed for outdoor use should never be used in the house, garage, or any other enclosed space.

Some types of solvents and cleaners can also break down into carbon monoxide. For this reason, you should always ensure adequate ventilation when working with paint thinners and varnish removers. Any product containing methylene chloride could expose you to carbon monoxide.

What Effect Does Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Have on Your Body?

Too much carbon monoxide makes the air toxic to breathe. Toxic CO levels are usually seen in enclosed spaces where there is little fresh air to dilute the dangerous gas. When a person breathes air with too much CO, their vital organs and body tissues will receive a reduced amount of oxygen. The red blood cells that normally carry oxygen through the bloodstream grab onto carbon monoxide molecules instead.

CO poisoning results in a diminished oxygen supply to the brain, heart, and other body systems. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning begin to develop, and permanent damage or even death may occur. At the same time the vital organs are starving for oxygen, carbon monoxide and protein in the body combine and can cause additional damage to tissues.

When CO levels are high enough, just a few minutes of exposure can cause poisoning—which could, in turn, mean ongoing care and permanent disability, or death.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is extremely dangerous because even those who are healthy are susceptible. This is especially true if the exposure occurs when the victim is intoxicated or sleeping. However, there are also some groups that are at an increased risk for serious injury related to CO exposure.

Carbon monoxide may have an increased effect on your body if you fall into one of the following categories:

  • Seniors: Older adults who suffer exposure to high levels of CO are more likely to develop brain damage and other permanent injuries. Most victims of carbon monoxide poisoning who pass away because of exposure are seniors.
  • Those With Heart Disease: Because carbon monoxide can affect heart function, those who already have cardiac damage may suffer more serious complications.
  • Those With Other Chronic Diseases: People who have some chronic conditions may be at an increased risk for CO poisoning. This includes blood conditions such as anemia and conditions that affect breathing.

Children and unborn babies are also especially susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.

The effects of carbon monoxide poisoning are generally reversed when exposure levels are low, and the victim is quickly treated. However, permanent damage and disability do occur in some people with moderate or severe exposure. This can include:

  • Permanent brain damage
  • Cardiac complications
  • Miscarriage or other complications for an unborn child
  • Death

What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms generally begin in a relatively benign way, and may even be confused with a cold, the flu, or another illness. This is one reason it is difficult to identify CO poisoning and get treatment without a functioning carbon monoxide detector.

By the time symptoms become more severe, the decrease in oxygen may already be affecting the brain, and the person feels confused and disoriented. When they cannot think clearly, the possibility of carbon monoxide exposure and the need for medical care may not occur to them.

At low exposure levels, or when exposure first begins, the Cleveland Clinic’s article on CO Poisoning describes poisoning symptoms to include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Mild nausea
  • A dull headache

As exposure increases, there is even less oxygen reaching the brain, heart, and other vital organs. At moderate levels of CO exposure, some commonly reported symptoms include:

  • A more serious or even severe headache
  • Dizziness
  • Mental confusion and disorientation
  • Loss of muscle coordination, clumsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting

Once these symptoms begin, the person may be aware they are very sick, but it is difficult to focus on what they need to do or what could be wrong. In some cases, those with these symptoms only survive because of the intervention of someone who has not been in the enclosed area and is therefore not experiencing the effects of CO poisoning.

In the best-case scenario, this person recognizes the symptoms and takes the victim outside, then calls 911, and requests emergency medical care.

Without intervention and with continued exposure, the victim will eventually seem to fall asleep. In reality, this is a loss of consciousness. If exposure continues, they are unlikely to recover consciousness, and death is likely.

Nighttime CO Poisoning Poses an Increased Risk of Fatal Exposure

Because of the gradual way symptoms begin and how exposure eventually leads to unconsciousness, those who are asleep, drunk, or otherwise intoxicated are at an increased risk for death from carbon monoxide poisoning. This makes nighttime exposure even more dangerous.

For example, several deaths attributed to keyless ignition, push-button start vehicles left running in an attached garage occurred when the car was running overnight. The initial symptoms of exposure provide an opportunity to recognize the warning signs and get help, but this is unlikely for those who are asleep or intoxicated.

How Do You Treat Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

If you suspect that you or a loved one is experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning, go outside immediately. You need to stop the exposure and get fresh air as soon as possible. Then, call 911. Emergency medical care is necessary to counteract the effects of carbon monoxide exposure.

Supplemental oxygen treatment is the gold standard for most patients with carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, especially if the effects seem to be relatively minor.

In the ambulance, the first responders will likely give you oxygen if they know there is a chance of CO poisoning. Once you reach the hospital and report possible exposure to carbon monoxide, the emergency department doctors will almost certainly put you on an oxygen mask that covers your nose and mouth.

By offering oxygen in this way, your organs can get the oxygen they need faster than they could if you were breathing atmospheric air that contains mostly nitrogen and is only about one-fifth oxygen.

If the patient is not breathing or is struggling to breathe on their own when they arrive at the hospital, they may require a ventilator. This generally means they will go to the critical or intensive care unit and be sedated. The ventilator will keep them alive and supply oxygen to their brain, heart, and other organs until they can breathe on their own.

In some cases, doctors also prescribe hyperbaric oxygen treatments for those with severe carbon monoxide poisoning or certain complications. A hyperbaric chamber provides pure oxygen in an environment where the air pressure is two to three times greater than normal. This treatment must begin within six hours of the beginning of treatment to have the greatest effect.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may help protect the brain and heart from further damage and protect unborn babies when carbon monoxide affects pregnant mothers. Others who may benefit from this treatment include:

  • Those who demonstrate related neurologic issues
  • Patients who are unconscious
  • Those experiencing cardiac ischemia
  • Patients with a high concentration of the gas in their blood

As of 2019, there are no proven medications, alternative treatments, or pharmacological supplements that can help victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.

CO poisoning victims may require physical, occupational, speech, and other therapies to recover lost skills and learn to live with any lasting effects.

Can Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Kill You?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas. Because of its poisonous nature—and the fact that the gas is odorless, colorless, and tasteless—CO is often referred to as the “silent killer.”

The American Red Cross’s Fact Sheet on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, reports that 480 people die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning. Per the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 200 of these fatalities result from fuel-burning appliances that exist within the victims’ homes. Examples of these appliances include water heaters, furnaces, and room heaters.

CO affects people differently, depending upon a number of factors, including how concentrated the gas is within the air they are breathing, as well as the individual’s general physical condition. According to MedlinePlus’s information on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, an especially strong risk of dying from CO poisoning presents itself when a person is either sleeping or intoxicated, as the effects of the CO can kill the individual before any symptoms have either manifested or been detected.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Safety Alert, additional high-risk groups for fatal CO poisoning are:

  • Unborn fetuses
  • Pregnant mothers
  • Infants
  • Elderly people
  • Smokers
  • Individuals with anemia, heart disease, or other blood or circulatory problems

Other common occurrences of fatal CO poisoning happen during power outages, when people use fuel-burning camping stoves, heaters, gas generators, and charcoal grills inside their homes.

Over 50% of poisoning deaths in many countries could stem from CO, reports the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its report, “Carbon Monoxide Poisoning—A Public Health Perspective.” The exact number of these deaths cannot be known, because fatalities from CO poisoning are often underreported or misdiagnosed. Misdiagnosis happens when the symptoms associated with CO poisoning—dizziness, headaches, light-headedness, nausea, and shortness of breath—are mistaken for flu symptoms or those common to food poisoning or other illnesses.

When a person endures acute or chronic exposure to CO in high concentrations, death from the poisoning is not uncommon. Although death is not always immediate from this type of exposure, cardiac deaths can occur suddenly due to heart tissues’ sensitivity to hypoxia—the deprivation of oxygen that results from CO poisoning. When CO is present in the body, it undermines the blood’s ability to transport oxygen. These reduced levels of oxygen damage myocardial tissues and can ultimately lead to death.

Other risks of death from CO poisoning relate to:

  • Pulmonary edema
  • Short-term pregnancy complications
  • Fetal death

Do Electric Cars Produce Carbon Monoxide?

Purely electric cars do not produce carbon monoxide (CO), as they have electric motors, and therefore do not burn fuel and emit it as exhaust from the tailpipe. However, a handful of electric cars do feature a built-in generator and a small fuel tank. When the car’s battery dips to a certain level, the generator starts up to recharge the battery and get the driver home or to a charging station. In these cases, there is some fuel present that may occasionally be burned, thereby producing carbon monoxide.

Still, the dangers of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning from an electric car are rather slim, compared with fuel-powered vehicles and hybrids.

With these vehicles, CO is emitted as exhaust when a car is left idling. If the driver leaves the car parked in an enclosed space, like a garage, the fumes build to dangerous levels. If the garage is connected to the house, the fumes can seep into the home, undetected by inhabitants, and slowly fill it, possibly causing the home dwellers to become poisoned. If they are asleep while the CO levels are high in the house, the home inhabitants may never wake up.

The increasing number of keyless-ignition cars, as well as hybrids and plug-in hybrids,  have brought about a concurrent increase in CO poisoning caused by idling vehicles.

In a June 2019 feature, the Detroit Free Press reported that there have been 37 carbon monoxide deaths associated with keyless cars since 2005.

According to Reuters, 10 automakers have been named as defendants in a class-action lawsuit for their negligence in this design. The lawsuits claim that the companies knew about this CO problem for years and refused to address the problem—including by failing to use automatic shutdown safeguards after a car has been idling for a specified period of time.

Although many cars now sport these types of precautionary features, older cars that pre-date such changes are still on the road and continue to pose a threat to drivers and their families.

How to Make Your Home Safe From Carbon Monoxide

To ensure that your home is safe from carbon monoxide (CO), consider implementing the following tips:

Buy Some CO Detectors: You can buy a CO detector for as little as $20—a good value for protecting yourself and your family from this silent killer. You can find a wide selection of CO devices online, in home-improvement stores, and other retailers. Find the type that works best for your needs and your budget. A combination smoke-and-CO-detector device can offer a good value.

Whatever device you choose, make sure it carries the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label. Also check for the manufacture date. These devices have a limited shelf life. For help picking the best CO detector for you, review Consumer Reports’ buying guide.

Buy Batteries to Back Up Your Detectors: It just makes good sense to back up your plug-in CO detectors with some backup batteries. On that note, be sure to check your detectors’ batteries regularly, as you do with your smoke detectors. Checking them when you change your clocks in the spring and fall will help you remember.

Put CO Detectors on Each Floor of Your Home: Ideally, you should have a CO detector on each floor of your house. You should also put one by any gas-burning appliance. Keep in mind that CO can seep in from a connected garage, so the fact that you have electric appliances does not ensure your safety from CO poisoning.

Check Your Appliances: Make sure your CO detectors have the UL label, just like your gas appliances. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is a good idea to bring a technician in to check your gas appliances once a year. If you detect an unidentifiable odor coming from your gas refrigerator, have a technician come and check it out. It could be a CO leak.

Sometimes, the things we do not do can save us from something as dangerous as CO poisoning in our homes. For example:

  • Do not patch vent pipes with tape or gum.
  • Do not use appliances like the gas range or oven to heat your home.
  • Never use a generator inside your house.
  • Do not use charcoal grills or camp stoves inside your house.

Keep Safe from Automobile CO Fumes: The same types of rules apply to keep your car safe from the dangers of CO poisoning. Check your exhaust system regularly for leaks. And under no circumstances should you ever let your car idle in the garage—even if the door is open—and especially if the garage is connected to your house.

How Do You Test for Carbon Monoxide?

The Iowa State University’s Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering study on CO Poisoning urgently makes the point that there is no such thing as a safe concentration of carbon monoxide (CO)—it can kill at concentrations as low as 300 parts per million.

This makes it vital that you test for carbon monoxide in your living space. Besides installing a carbon monoxide detector/alarm in your home, as we discussed earlier, there are other ways you can stay on top of your air quality.

Have a Professional Carbon Monoxide Test

You can hire a professional to conduct indoor air quality and improvement test, which will also measure carbon monoxide levels. Look online for private companies that offer this service. Many utility companies also perform these tests for free, as do municipal fire departments.

When a professional comes to your home to test for CO, they use a device similar in function to your personal carbon monoxide detector. The difference between the commercial device called an electronic portable toxic multi-gas monitor, and your home device is that the pro’s device can be calibrated to detect a wide range of CO levels, from as low as 0 parts per million (ppm).

Check Your HVAC System

Often, an improperly vented furnace or other gas appliance in the home introduces carbon monoxide. If you suspect this may be the case in your home, someone from your heating, venting, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system company can test gases being vented from the appliance. Because they are checking the gases as they are emitted from your furnace or other gas appliance, these professionals will use a combustion analyzer to read the output of these emissions.

Use a Carbon Monoxide Test Kit

You can buy a CO detector badge at most building supply or hardware stores. You simply place these badges throughout your house and watch for a change in color. If the badge darkens to any degree, it means you have a dangerous amount of carbon monoxide in the air of your home.

Be Aware of the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

With so much going on in life, remembering to check for CO can easily fall off your radar. Try to be aware of certain symptoms that might indicate carbon monoxide poisoning. They mostly simulate flu symptoms, which can be confusing, but if you find that your entire household, including your pets, falls ill simultaneously, and leaving the house results in your feeling better, you may want to call someone in to test for carbon monoxide.

How Long Does Carbon Monoxide Last?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s report on the placing of a carbon monoxide detector states that because carbon monoxide (CO) is a little lighter than air, it will eventually dissipate, provided you have opened the doors and windows in your house to vent to the atmosphere, and you have turned off the gas appliances that are producing the CO.

How Long Does it Take CO to Leave Your Body

The real problem lies with the amount of time it takes the gas to completely leave your body. When carbon monoxide enters your body, it attaches to your blood’s hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin, which is what disables your blood’s ability to carry oxygen. When you are standing in the fresh air, carboxyhemoglobin has a half-life of around four hours, according to Iowa State University Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering’s study on carbon monoxide poisoning health effects  This means that it will take four hours to reduce your body’s CO content by half. It will then take another four hours to reduce what remains by half, and another four hours to reduce that amount by half, and so on.

Longer Durations, More Damage

The more CO you have inhaled, the longer it will take to leave your body, and the longer the CO is in your body, the more damage it can do. It is very important to immediately leave an environment in which you have detected carbon monoxide. According to Mayo Clinic, this condition is also why treatment for CO poisoning involves the use of hyperbaric chambers, which creates air pressure that is three times greater than standard air pressure, enabling your lungs to take in more pure oxygen to reduce some of the potential damage and medical problems resulting from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Relapses of various CO poisoning symptoms can go on for several weeks for a patient who is poisoned to the extent of losing consciousness. They may experience irrational behavior, cloudy thinking, memory loss, headaches, fatigue, and irritability. The less fortunate of these patients may sustain organ and/or permanent brain damage.

Testing for Carbon Monoxide

A medical laboratory can check your CO levels if your exposure is recent. They can check your blood for carboxyhemoglobin, but these levels start to drop when you leave the carbon monoxide environment. For this reason, it is a good idea to undergo some neurological assessment tests, too. Through a series of physical and mental challenges, some effects of carbon monoxide might be detected.

Speak to a Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Lawyer Today

If you required treatment after carbon monoxide exposure or lost a loved one to carbon monoxide poisoning, you may be able to take legal action. Call Newsome Melton today at (888) 808-5977 for your free case review.