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Why Winter is the Deadliest Time of Year for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Tragedy struck this month in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where two brothers died of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. Carlos and Luis Carranza were discovered unconscious in their shared home on January 4 by first responders and subsequently declared dead on the scene. A portable generator was reportedly running inside the living room. According to relatives, the brothers used the generator as a heat source because their home had lost electrical power.

Deaths like the Carranza brothers’ are unfortunately not an isolated incident. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning kills over 400 people a year and causes severe illness in 50,000 more. And while CO poisoning can strike any time, there is a consistent uptick in fatalities during the winter months.

When Temperatures Drop, the Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Goes Up

CO is an odorless, colorless gas that binds to red blood cells when inhaled. Too much CO in the air can prevent red blood cells from absorbing oxygen and transporting it throughout the body. As a result, the body’s organs are starved of oxygen, a condition known as hypoxia. Early symptoms of hypoxia include shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Left untreated, it can cause organ failure, permanent brain damage, unconsciousness, and death.

Since it is a byproduct of carbon combustion, CO forms when coal, oil, wood, kerosene, or gas is burned. As the winter months usher in freezing temperatures, more people turn to devices like space heaters, stoves, and generators to provide indoor warmth. But when used improperly or in areas with poor ventilation, these heat sources can emit deadly levels of CO into the air.

Virtually any fuel-powered device has the potential to cause CO poisoning, including wood-burning fireplaces, chimneys, barbeque grills, gas water waters, and gas dryers. But data shows that gas or kerosene-powered space heaters and generators are the most frequent culprits in residential carbon monoxide poisoning cases. These appliances are commonly used in the frigid winter months – and that’s also when CO-related tragedies are most likely to occur. According to the most recent statistics from the CDC, from 2010-2015, most CO-related deaths took place in December, January, and February.

Precautions Should Be Taken to Stay Safe 

Since CO has no smell, taste, or color, victims of CO poisoning often don’t realize they’re inhaling a deadly toxin until they develop symptoms – and by then, the effects can be irreversible. Therefore, prevention is the key to protecting yourself and your family from CO poisoning.

The CDC recommends several safeguards to observe when using any fuel-powered device:

  • Purchase in-home CO detectors and change the batteries every six months.
  • Have all gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances serviced annually by a licensed technician.
  • Keep fireplace vents, flues, and chimneys free of debris.
  • Never use charcoal grills, camping stoves, lanterns, or gas-powered generators inside an enclosed space – even if the windows or doors are open.
  • Know the early signs of CO poisoning and call 911 immediately if you suspect CO intoxication.

Can You File a Lawsuit for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

It may be possible to recover damages if you or a loved one has suffered carbon monoxide poisoning in some scenarios. Property holders are responsible for ensuring a reasonably safe environment for people who enter the premises. Exposure to dangerous levels of CO gas inside a residence, business, hotel, or apartment is a potential liability for the owners if it can be shown that fuel-powered equipment was not adequately maintained and inspected.

But proving liability in a carbon monoxide lawsuit case can come with challenges. First, a thorough investigation is typically required to show that inhaling CO gas directly caused injury or death. Further challenges may arise if the potentially liable party claims they were unaware of malfunctioning devices. That’s why it is in your best interest to contact an experienced Carbon monoxide personal injury attorney if you or a loved one are the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. They can review the case details and determine if compensation is due.