- October 23, 2023
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Personal Injury
Carbon monoxide (CO) is invisible, odorless, toxic, and present whenever carbon fuels are burned. Anything that runs on gasoline, natural gas, propane, charcoal, or even wood is a source of CO. Devices that use these fuels are generally safe, as long as they’re working as intended, but certain mechanical malfunctions can cause the fuel to burn less efficiently, producing much more CO than normal. Ventilation problems can also result in deadly CO buildup in the air, even when carbon-burning appliances are working normally.
The early symptoms of CO poisoning in humans include:
- Chest pain
This reaction is easy to mistake for other illnesses, such as flu. Victims exposed to CO while asleep sometimes die before they have a chance to notice the problem at all.
The only sure way to recognize an imminent CO poisoning threat, before any harm is done, is with a CO detector. The 2018 International Fire Code requires these detectors in every bedroom of every residential unit.
In case it wasn’t obvious enough that public housing should follow standards like the fire code to keep residents safe, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) specifically clarified this requirement in 2022.
Unfortunately, residents continue to face a lack of CO protection.
A Family Was Poisoned Over the Course of Nine Months at College View Hills Apartments
On the morning of August 24th, at the College View Hills Apartments in College Park, Temyka Ollie and her three children, ages 6-17, awoke experiencing vomiting and difficulty breathing. All four were hospitalized for several days with CO poisoning.
Severe CO poisoning can happen quickly and with very little warning, especially when the victims are asleep — but that’s not what happened in this case.
Nine months before this incident, Ollie’s children found her unconscious in the apartment. She was hospitalized then as well, and reported a suspected gas leak to the College Park Housing Authority. The Housing Authority performed some repairs on her stove and furnace, but she and her family continued experiencing health problems.
On August 23rd, the day before her recent hospital stay began, a doctor informed Ollie that she had high concentrations of CO in her body. Again, she notified the Housing Authority, which shut off the gas to her apartment and reportedly told her it was safe to stay there as long as she opened the windows and brought in fresh air.
Evidently, it was not safe to stay there.
Ollie reports that, throughout the course of this months-long poisoning, she suffered a stroke, one of her children had seizures, and another had ongoing respiratory issues.
At no point during this ordeal did her unit’s CO detector sound the alarm.
Public and Private Landlords Can Be Held Liable for Preventable CO Accidents
All landlords have a basic duty to anticipate potential dangers to their tenants and guests, and take all reasonable steps to address those dangers. The possibility of CO poisoning is easy to anticipate, particularly in dwellings with gas-burning appliances, and providing a CO detector is a perfectly reasonable safety measure.
For renters living in public housing, the right to a CO detector is written out in black and white. Other renters may not officially be covered by such a rule, depending on location and building age. Still, there’s really no rational excuse for any landlord to deny tenants this simple, affordable lifeline.
When a renter is harmed by accidental CO inhalation, there’s a very good chance the landlord can be held liable in court, whether due to the lack of a working detector, poor maintenance on carbon burning devices, or both.
If you are Temyka Ollie, or if you have also been injured or lost a loved one to CO poisoning on a rental property in Georgia, reach out to the Stoddard Firm to discuss your next steps and how we can help.