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Preventing carbon monoxide deaths.pdfPreventing carbon monoxide deaths and injuries through product liability advocacy for mandatory use of carbon monoxide detectors with interlocks By Thomas L. Gowen, Esq.
Locks Law Firm
Hurricane Sandy left in its wake another of inhalation because once inhaled, it binds inexperienced people who rent them in an reminder about the danger of generators. As with hemoglobin at roughly 250 times the emergency situation that has resulted in a with most signiﬁcant storms causing power rate of oxygen, thus displacing this essential power outage or, otherwise, to support a outages, the number of deaths and injuries project or event that requires power where caused by the use of fossil-fuel-powered Most, if not all, people seem to appreciate recognized the lethal impact of generators the explosive power of fossil fuels, but far and mandated a more clear warning than had too many do not understand the potentially previously been given by manufacturers of lethal effects in fuel-burning appliances of the clearest cases of product-generated devices to minimize risks have not yet been functions as the delivery system for vital most importantly the brain and heart, which Carbon monoxide is caused by the incomplete the signal word “Danger,” denoting the risk the body. Damage to the brain, heart and including natural gas, oil, gasoline, propane of death or serious injury and a pictorial and even wood. It is odorless and colorless warning against using it inside or even close hypoxic affect of carbon monoxide when it and can be extremely harmful in very small to the windows in a house or in a garage. deprives the vital organs of oxygen from the quantities relative to the mass of air into hemoglobin and by the inﬂammatory effects This warning should be taken seriously by which it is emitted. It wreaks havoc with of endogenous chemicals in the body that consumers using these devices, but frequently are triggered by the inhalation of carbon it is not. Despite the apparent clarity of its warning language, this statement appears to be misunderstood too often. And frequently, If the victim is still alive, this effect can cause the victims are not the people who placed the delayed neurocognitive deﬁcits even after generators in service but rather bystanders: residents of a building where generators are being used, perhaps unbeknownst to them, The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include acutely severe headaches and loss of For those placing the generators in service, coordination and balance. Loss of cognition, the key issue is often the comprehension of memory loss, severe fatigue, cardiac damage the words “never use in or near a building.” and other problems may follow either acute While the concept of not using a generator or chronic exposure to carbon monoxide. In inside a building would appear to be clear, exposures caused by generators, too often the issue of what constitutes “near a building” the end result is death because of the rapid Thomas Gowen is a partner at the Locks
often is not. Therefore, the retailer renting rate of carbon monoxide discharge when the Law Firm in Philadelphia. He has handled
or selling the machine should reinforce the a signiﬁcant number of carbon monoxide generator is operated in or near an occupied poisoning cases involving heating systems, generators, water heaters, kitchen stoves Gasoline-powered generators emit extremely email@example.com or at 215-893-3401.
being killed by carbon monoxide poisoning high levels of carbon monoxide very rapidly. occurred recently when two men who lived Compounding this, they are often used by 12 | WESTLAW JOURNAL n PRODUCTS LIABILITY
in apartments above a grocery store were INTERLOCK FEATURES
poisoned by a gasoline-powered generator placement into the stream of commerce of used to replace electrical service to its a defectively or negligently designed product safety engineering that it is never enough can give rise to liability in a product liability to warn if a product can be guarded, and nothing to do with the store or the use of the claim. The failure to prevent or minimize never enough to guard if the hazard can be generator, and the warning was either not the risk of serious injury or death by the use eliminated altogether, the CPSC recognized read or understood by the store employees poisoning is a risk only if diesel fuel is used.
It commissioned a study to determine the feasibility of providing an interlock system unwarranted reassurance to the employees, who rented and placed a gasoline-powered generator upon accumulation of potentially generator inside a ﬁrst-ﬂoor store while the dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
two men were sleeping in apartments on the The viability of attaching a detector to a second ﬂoor. The store employees started generator that would trigger a shutoff switch the generator and left for the night, suffering upon the accumulation of hazardous levels no health effects, but the two apartment of carbon monoxide was aptly demonstrated dwellers were found dead in the morning. U.S. Navy in 2006. The study conﬁrmed the generator owners also believe they can safely feasibility of interlocking a carbon monoxide operate a generator in a garage attached to sensor to gas-powered generators so that a house, particularly if they leave the door usually indoors, are preventable by the use open. Unfortunately, this is also untrue.
down upon sensing a critical level of carbon of reasonable safety measures. While the People using generators, particularly during storms, fear for the effects of weather on the on portable generators is an admirable ﬁrst generators or are afraid they will be stolen if an interlock device on portable generators, step, the potential for harm to people who left outside. While these may be legitimate, contending that the use of generators had were not involved in operating the generator, increased in the country at a greater pace or who misunderstood the imperative nature than the associated death toll. The industry of the warning or its meaning, justiﬁes the is vastly greater if the generator is brought further argued that the mandatory use of use of interlocks to prevent these tragedies. carbon monoxide detectors in conjunction with generator operation would often defeat all, interlocks are generally well-known a generator’s power production purpose by safety devices. Microwave ovens shut off shutting it down upon recognition of high automatically when the door is open and cars will not start unless the gear is in “park.” functionality of generators justiﬁed some also exist. In most instances, the adoption of interlock safety technology was resisted regulatory level, and the improved warning was the only safety measure that survived apparent safety of the ﬂat-bottom boat for the review process, despite the signiﬁcant reduced death and injury. The same should cruising lakes or rivers disguises the carbon number of foreseeable deaths and injuries be true for generators, which pose a grave risk of serious injury or death if operated in or generators to provide electrical power for the boat, including the air conditioning, lights Several layers of safety could be achieved by generator safety in the United States now interlocking generators to carbon monoxide If the generator is not vented through the roof rests with plaintiffs’ lawyers who recognize sensors. First, most injuries and deaths of a boat, but rather is vented out the back the hazards of these devices, even with the would be prevented by generator shutdown or to the side, the unsuspecting cruisers may improved warnings, and who pursue product when a given critical load of carbon monoxide liability claims against manufacturers, sellers is produced in the area around the generator.
of carbon monoxide under the platform of and renters of generators, asserting the need the boat or by blowback into the cabin from for interlocks to shut down this equipment Another layer of safety could be achieved at lower-level exposures, thus affording MARCH 2013 ■ VOLUME 24 ■ ISSUE 1 | 13
recognize that they are being exposed to carbon monoxide and to vacate the premises or to alert the operator of the need to shut FISHER-PRICE INFANT SLEEPERS RECALLED OVER MOLD HAZARD
down the generator. At higher levels, the Fisher-Price is recalling some 800,000 infant sleepers it says can pose respiratory hazards sensor would be designed to shut down the to babies from internal mold buildup. The company said it has received 600 reports of such problems from customers who bought Rock ‘N Play sleepers between September 2009 and The failure to employ this type of feasible December 2012. In the Jan. 8 recall notice, Fisher-Price said 16 customers reported that their infants were treated for respiratory issues, coughs and hives after sleeping in the seat. The should be considered negligence, and the company urges customers to check for dark spots under the sleeper’s removable seat cushion, product should be found to be defective as which are indications of mold, and contact it at 800-432-5437 for cleaning instructions.
lacking in all measures necessary for its safe use. FRAME FAILURE PROMPTS RECALL OF SPECIALIZED BICYCLES
The role of the retailer renting or selling After receiving two customer injury reports, Specialized Bicycle Components Inc. is recalling 12,200 bicycles it says are susceptible to sudden front fork failure. The company issued the either. Retailers should train sales personnel recall Jan. 25, saying that owners of 2012 and 2013 model year Tarmac SL4, Crux and Secteur in the hazards of these devices and require bicycles should stop using them immediately. Specialized said the bikes should be taken to an that they provide a detailed explanation of authorized dealer for a free frame and fork inspection and, if needed, repair or replacement.
JOHN DEERE RECALLS GATOR UTILITY VEHICLES OVER FIRE HAZARD
Reasonably prudent conduct by those selling or renting this equipment should include Deere & Co. is recalling about 4,600 of its popular John Deere “Gator” outdoor recreational utility vehicles because a fuel line may separate, posing a ﬁre hazard. In a Jan. 10 recall announcement, Deere said the recall applies to its Gator RSX8501 Base, Sport and Trail models "OZGVFMDPNCVTUFECZBHFOFSBUPSXJMM sold between August and October 2012. The company said three customers have reported fuel- line separations, none of which were related to injuries. Owners of the suspect units should contact a John Deere dealer to schedule a free inspection and repair. Added information can be obtained by calling the company’s customer support line at 800-537-8233.
PFIZER TO SETTLE ‘OFF-LABEL’ MARKETING ALLEGATIONS FOR $55 MILLION
certain distance from a building to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
The U.S. Justice Department says Pﬁzer Inc. will pay $55 million to settle claims that its Wyeth Because these devices pose such a dangerous subsidiary violated federal law by promoting the heartburn drug Protonix for “off-label” uses risk of serious injury or death to renters and between February 2000 and June 2001. The settlement, announced Dec. 12, resolves claims innocent occupants of a building, it should be that Wyeth’s sales force intentionally promoted Protonix for treating gastro-esophageal reﬂux considered negligence when those setting up disease diagnosed without endoscopic testing. Justice Department ofﬁcials said the U.S. Food generators do not heed the safety warnings.
and Drug Administration, however, only certiﬁed Protonix for GERD diagnosed through such testing. Wyeth, which bought Pﬁzer in 2009, ofﬁcially denied the allegations made in the Until interlocked detectors become standard complaint, the Justice Department said.
equipment on the generators themselves, store policies should also require the rental United States v. Wyeth LLC, No. 12-12308, complaint and settlement ﬁled (D. Mass. Dec. 12,
or purchase of carbon monoxide detectors to 2012).
be used in conjunction with the generators Related Court Document:
and require a written sign-off conﬁrming an understanding of the dangers associated with the use of these devices.
But intermediate measures like these
should never be considered sufﬁcient when
better remedies such as interlocked carbon
monoxide sensors integrated into the
generator are feasible and would prevent the
loss of life numerous times each year. WJ
14 | WESTLAW JOURNAL n PRODUCTS LIABILITY
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