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Carbon monoxide deaths at Hialeah hotel lead investigators to question premises liability

It was supposed to be a birthday celebration, instead five Haitian-born teens, friends since childhood, were found dead in their Hialeah motel room by a maid just days after Christmas.

The Miami-Dade medical examiner ruled the South Florida deaths accidental, the Miami Herald reports. Our Fort Lauderdale personal injury lawyers note carbon monoxide is believed to have been responsible. We are in the midst of what passes for winter in South Florida. And it has been colder than usual. When hotels, apartment buildings and businesses fail to ensure heating equipment is properly functioning, property owners can and should be held responsible when injury or death results.

According to the Daily Mail, the boys checked into the $62-a-night hotel room around 9 p.m. on Sun., Dec. 26, 2010 and were discovered at 2 p.m. the next day. The boys, aged 16 to 19, had just completed a fiction-based independent film project depicting life in Little Haiti.

The young men borrowed a car from a friend to make the trip. Some time after their arrival at the hotel they found the car battery dead and got a jump from a friend. Fearing the car wouldn’t start again, they decided to let the motor run. Deadly carbon monoxide gas from the car exhaust found a pathway through an opened garage door and seeped into the hotel room above. The car was still running the next day when ambulance and law enforcement arrived to investigate. No drugs or alcohol are believed to be involved.

One friend of the victims told the Miami Herald that the hotel room was “sealed shut like an aircraft” and wondered why there appeared to be no ventilation ducts, which could have prevented the tragedy.

As we have noted in a prior post to our South Florida Injury Lawyers blog, property owners and manufacturers have an obligation to tenants, guests and consumers to ensure a safe experience and environment.

As of 2007, the Miami Herald reports, Florida law requires that gas detectors be installed in boiler rooms at hotels and motels. Residential buildings that hold a fireplace or heater or have an attached garage were required to have a detector installed within 10 feet of bedrooms by July, 2008. Police are now investigating whether the hotel was negligent in installing detectors.

According to the Mayo Clinic, carbon monoxide is tasteless, odorless and colorless. Because of this, victims of carbon monoxide poisoning are often overcome without warning. Once inhaled, the gas attaches to hemoglobin in red blood cells and blocks the body’s ability to absorb oxygen. Because it is nearly impossible to detect, it is known as a silent killer estimated to be responsible for 450 deaths and more than 50,000 emergency room visits each year, the American Lung Association reports.

The ALA indicates that all levels of carbon monoxide intoxication resemble flu or food poisoning symptoms – headache, nausea and weakness. At regular low-level exposure, victims can suffer lasting cognitive and physical problems. High-level exposure can render a victim unconscious, and often causes death if the victim is not quickly discovered, removed from the intoxication site, and treated.

Whether you are a renter, homeowner or property manager, making sure that fuel-burning stoves or appliances are located in a well-ventilated area can be a life saver. So can installing a carbon monoxide detector and regular maintenance of ventilation systems and gas-burning appliances.

The Fort Lauderdale injury attorneys at Freeman & Mallard know that a premises liability or manufacturing defect accident can happen at any time and place. If you have been injured or someone you know has been injured or killed due to a defective product or a negligent property manager, contact our offices in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Ft. Pierce /Port St. Lucie to schedule a free appointment to discuss your case at 1-800-529-2368.

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