Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas released whenever a material such as wood, coal, gas or oil burns. Common sources of carbon monoxide include fuel-burning appliances and devices such as water heaters, gas stoves and ovens, grills, generators, power tools and boilers.
Carbon monoxide has no colour, smell or taste, and therefore it cannot be detected by human senses. This makes it extremely dangerous and sometimes leads to carbon monoxide poisoning when exposed to concentrations of 100 parts per million (ppm) or above.
The first symptoms of CO poisoning resemble those of the flu and include headache, nausea, fatigue and a general sense of feeling unwell. Exposure to very high concentrations or for prolonged periods causes more severe and life-threatening symptoms, such as confusion, fast heart rate, delirium, seizures and hallucinations.
While most cases of carbon monoxide poisoning are temporary, severe cases can lead to long-term health complications like memory and concentration problems, seizures and vision and hearing loss.
If someone else caused your injury by acting negligently, you might be able to make a carbon monoxide poisoning claim. Depending on your circumstances, the liable party could be a manufacturer, employer, the local council, a landlord or a business owner.
What is carbon monoxide poisoning?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that is slightly less dense than the air. It has no colour, smell or taste and is emitted by faulty boilers, heaters, camping and cooking equipment or while burning carbon fuels such as coal, wood, gas or oil.
Breathing in carbon monoxide at excessive levels is toxic for the body and leads to poisoning. Small amounts of CO are beneficial, but exposure to concentrations of 100 ppm or higher is dangerous to human health. In closed environments, the concentration of carbon monoxide can even rise to lethal levels.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is relatively common, resulting in an estimated 30 deaths and a further 4,000 hospitalisations each year in the UK. Common causes of exposure include faulty, poorly-installed or badly maintained household appliances and other systems, such as:
- Open fires, gas fires, chimneys and wood-burning stoves
- Central heating systems
- Boilers and water heaters
- Gas cookers and clay ovens
- Kitchen appliances
- Portable generators
- Clothes dryers
- Faulty vehicle exhaust systems
- Fumes from some paint and cleaning fluids
- Using barbecues and camping stoves inside
- Turning on a vehicle or lawn mower in the garage
Signs that there is a high concentration of carbon monoxide in a room include:
- Heavy condensation
- Smoke building up
- Sooty yellow or brown stains around boilers, stoves or fires
- Yellow or orange flames instead of blue flames in boilers
- Solid fuel fires that burn a lot slower than usual
- You manifest symptoms like breathlessness and headaches that disappear when you are away from home
It is essential to detect any carbon monoxide leaks in your household to prevent hazards. In the UK, gas boilers and water heaters must be fitted and repaired by a registered Gas Safe engineer. However, Gas Safe engineers sometimes work under fake certificates, so you should always check they are genuine.
Some ways in which you could reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
- Have your gas appliances serviced annually by a Gas Safe engineer, and if you are renting, your landlord should do this for you;
- Buy and install an inexpensive carbon monoxide alarm in your home and ensure it is maintained and replaced according to packaging instructions;
- Have any other fossil-fuel-burning appliances annually serviced by a certified professional;
- Never take a BBQ or gas cylinder cooker into your tent to cook food;
- Make sure your gas appliances are correctly vented;
- Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year, as debris can cause CO to build up inside;
- Never use a generator inside the home, including your basement or garage;
- Never burn charcoal indoors, and avoid smoking inside your home.
If you or a loved one suffered CO poisoning due to negligence, you might be able to bring a carbon monoxide poisoning claim against the responsible party.
What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?
Since carbon monoxide has no odour, colour or taste, it cannot be detected by our senses. If the gas builds up indoors to dangerous concentrations, there is no way to perceive the problem before becoming ill. Moreover, initial symptoms are similar to the flu, which may cause victims to ignore the early signs.
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when a person inhales the gas over an extended period in a poorly ventilated space. The first symptoms are often overlooked as they resemble the flu, but there are some cues to help you identify the difference between the two, such as:
- You feel better when you are away from home
- All family members are sick at the same time
- The most affected members are those who spend more time indoors
- House pets also appear ill
- You do not have a fever or body aches
There are two types of carbon monoxide poisoning for which you could claim compensation if another party is responsible for your exposure:
The main manifestations of CO poisoning develop in the systems most dependent on oxygen use, such as the heart and central nervous system. The first symptoms are usually mistaken for influenza and include headache, nausea, malaise and fatigue.
Increased exposure to carbon monoxide gives rise to cardiac abnormalities and central nervous system symptoms, such as:
- Fast heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Cardiac arrhythmia
Less common symptoms of acute CO poisoning include:
- Myocardial ischemia
- Pulmonary oedema
- High blood sugar
- Muscle necrosis
- Acute kidney failure
- Skin lesions
- Visual and auditory problems
Acute carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to severe delayed neurological manifestations such as dementia, speech disturbances, short-term memory loss, psychosis or a depressed mood. These occur in up to 50% of victims within 2 to 40 days after the poisoning.
Chronic exposure to relatively low levels of carbon monoxide may cause:
- Persistent headaches
- Memory loss
- Hearing disorders
Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you or a loved one suffered illness due to another person’s negligence, you might be able to make a carbon monoxide poisoning claim.
How long does carbon monoxide poisoning last?
If the concentration of carbon monoxide in the air is much higher than the safety threshold, signs of poisoning may occur within one to two hours. A very high concentration can even kill an individual within five minutes. How long it takes for CO to affect you depends on its concentration levels:
- Under 50 ppm, most healthy adults don’t show symptoms;
- 200 ppm may cause a slight headache, fatigue or nausea within a couple of hours;
- 800 ppm causes headache, nausea and dizziness within 45 minutes and may cause you to collapse after one to two hours of exposure;
- 1,600 ppm will usually cause a severe headache or migraine within 20 minutes and potential death within one hour;
- 3,200 ppm will cause collapse and unconsciousness within 30 minutes of exposure;
- 6,400 ppm leads to headache and dizziness after one to two minutes and potential death within 10 to 15 minutes;
- 12,800 ppm may cause you to lose consciousness or die after one to three minutes.
When inhaling carbon monoxide, it enters the bloodstream and prevents oxygen from being carried around the body. This causes vital cells and tissues to fail and die, causing the common symptoms associated with CO poisoning.
CO leaves the body when you exhale, which usually makes symptoms temporary. However, severe acute poisoning or prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide could lead to long-term health complications. Recovery is slow and depends on the amount and length of exposure.
Impaired mental ability can reappear even if the person shows no symptoms for up to two weeks. If the victim has neurological symptoms for more than two weeks, the chance of making a complete recovery is worse and permanent brain damage may occur. Long-term health complications include:
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Vision and hearing loss
- Cardiovascular symptoms such as atherosclerosis and tachycardia
- Muscle spasms and seizures
Can I claim compensation for carbon monoxide poisoning?
If you are injured as a result of CO poisoning due to the negligence of another party, you might be able to claim carbon monoxide poisoning compensation. A personal injury lawyer will ask you some questions about your circumstances to determine whether:
- Another person or entity owed you a duty of care
- They breached their duty by acting negligently
- You suffered carbon monoxide poisoning as a result
- This caused you significant personal and financial losses
- Your injury happened in the last three years
If you fulfil the above criteria, you will likely be able to bring a successful carbon monoxide poisoning claim against the responsible party. Depending on the circumstances, you may also be able to claim compensation on behalf of a loved one as their litigation friend.
If you decide to claim compensation for carbon monoxide poisoning, your solicitor will help you gather evidence to support your claim, such as:
- Medical records for the immediate and long-term health conditions caused by carbon monoxide;
- Customer reports, if you were injured due to a defective product and others have been affected by the same issue;
- Details of any witnesses who could be called on later to make a statement;
- An injury diary about how the CO poisoning has affected your work, family and personal life;
- Photographic evidence of anything related to your situation, such as a broken or faulty boiler or an out-of-date gas certificate that could be used to support your claim;
- Evidence of all the expenses incurred, including payslips, invoices or bank statements.
After preparing your claim, your solicitor will contact the other side, informing them of your allegation of negligence. They will have up to three months to conduct their own research and investigate your claim. Afterwards, they must send you a response stating whether or not they admit liability.
If the defendant accepts responsibility for your carbon monoxide poisoning claim, you may begin to negotiate a settlement. If they deny liability, your solicitor may have to issue court proceedings. Nonetheless, negotiations will continue up to the trial date, and more than 95% of all claims will settle out of court.
Furthermore, if you have a valid claim for carbon monoxide poisoning, your solicitor will offer you a no win no fee service. This means you can take legal action regardless of your financial situation and without taking any risks. After reaching a conditional fee agreement, you only have to pay anything if your claim is successful. If your claim is lost, you won’t pay a penny and will not be left out of pocket.
Who could I make a carbon monoxide poisoning claim against?
If another person or entity was responsible for your illness or injury, you might be eligible to claim carbon monoxide poisoning compensation. Depending on your circumstances, the liable party could be:
Carbon monoxide poisoning at work
Employers have duties under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations and other legislations to provide a safe working environment for their employees. They are expected to:
- Carry out risk assessments to find out what the health hazards are
- Put provisions in place to prevent CO poisoning
- Install carbon monoxide detectors that are fit for the purpose
- Ensure adequate ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide build-up
- Keep all control measures in good working order
- Provide information, instruction and training for employees
- When necessary, provide monitoring and health surveillance
If you have suffered poisoning from CO at work, you might be eligible to make a carbon monoxide poisoning claim. Your solicitor will identify who is responsible for your exposure and confirm whether you can claim compensation.
Carbon monoxide poisoning at home
Carbon monoxide in the household is often due to faulty, poorly-installed, badly-maintained or poorly-ventilated appliances and systems. If you suffered from CO poisoning in your home, you might be legally entitled to bring a compensation claim against the following:
- The individual or business that has installed your appliance if they did not do a proper job;
- The manufacturer or maker of that appliance, if it was faulty;
- The manufacturer of your carbon monoxide detector if it was not functioning properly;
- The individual or business that has carried out a safety inspection of your home or appliances if they failed to spot a fault;
- The landlord or private association renting your home if they failed to ensure the property was safe. An up-to-date gas safety certificate is a must for all landlords, and they have a duty to renew it every year and provide you with a copy. They must also ensure that a properly working carbon monoxide detector is installed if a room has any sort of appliance that burns fuel.
Carbon monoxide poisoning in a public place
Under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957, the owner of a public place or business such as a restaurant, bar or hotel must take all reasonable measures to keep you safe from harm while on their premises. If you suffered from CO poisoning in a public place due to a breach of health and safety rules, you might be entitled to make a carbon monoxide poisoning claim.
Although CO exposure in public places is rare, you may still be able to claim compensation if another party’s negligence caused the exposure to the poisonous gas.
Can I sue the council for carbon monoxide poisoning?
The local council must take all reasonable measures to protect the health, safety and well-being of citizens. This includes carrying out routine inspections of appliances and systems that produce the toxic gas and installing carbon monoxide detectors when necessary in any buildings under their management, such as council housing and offices.
If you were exposed to carbon monoxide in a property managed by the local council due to negligence, you might be eligible for compensation.
Regardless of where and how you were exposed, if this was due to another party’s negligence, you might be entitled to compensation for carbon monoxide poisoning. If you want to find out if you have a valid claim for compensation, call 0800 678 1410 or request a call back to receive a free consultation with a legal adviser.
How much compensation can I claim for carbon monoxide poisoning?
There is no set amount of CO poisoning compensation that is awarded to the claimant when making a successful claim. Each case is unique, and your solicitor will consider everything you went through to ensure you are fully compensated.
The compensation for carbon monoxide poisoning includes two types of damages:
Special damages cover financial losses and expenses, such as:
- Cost of medical treatments and hospitalisation
- Rehabilitation and physical therapy
- Lost wages and loss of earning capacity and pensions
- Adaptations to your home or vehicle
- Costs of care and assistance with daily tasks
- Travel expenses
- Any other related financial losses and expenses that you incurred
General damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenities, which takes into account:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Psychological and emotional trauma
- Physical and mental disability
- Loss of prospects and enjoyment of life
- Reduced quality of life and life expectancy
- Loss of consortium or companionship
- Inability to pursue a hobby or social event
Solicitors and courts use tables published by the Judicial College as a starting point when calculating the compensation award in a carbon monoxide poisoning claim. According to them, you could receive the following:
- £4,240 to £14,320 for a moderate chest injury caused by inhaling toxic fumes or smoke
- £10,040 to £14,320 for permanent tissue damage to the chest but no significant lung issues
- £1,760 to £10,180 for minor brain injuries with complete or near-complete recovery
- £12,210 to £34,330 for a mild brain injury with good recovery and return to work and their usual life
- £34,330 to £85,150 for moderate brain injuries affecting concentration and memory, resulting in a lower degree of dependence on others
- £85,150 to £174,620 for moderate damage to intellect with risk of epilepsy and reduced chances of returning to work
- £174,620 to £224,800 for a severe brain injury resulting in significant disability and dependence on others
- £224,800 to £322,060 for very severe brain injuries with the need for full-time nursing and care
How long do I have to make a carbon monoxide poisoning claim?
Under the Limitation Act 1980, personal injury claimants usually have three years to make a carbon monoxide poisoning claim from the date of the injury. Seeking legal advice as soon as possible after the event makes collecting evidence easier and helps you get the compensation you need as quickly as possible.
If you do not start a claim within the time limit, your case becomes statute-barred, and the court will no longer accept it, even if it has merit. There are several exceptions to the three-year time limit to claim compensation for CO poisoning, including:
- Claims on behalf of children can be brought by a parent or another litigation friend at any time, regardless of when the poisoning occurred. After turning 18, the victim has three years to take legal action if nobody has claimed on their behalf.
- There are no time limits to claim carbon monoxide poisoning compensation on behalf of someone who does not have the mental ability to handle their case. This applies whether the claimant suffered a brain injury due to the poisoning or had a pre-existing condition such as an intellectual disability or mental health disorder.
- If a loved one has passed away due to CO poisoning, you will have three years from the date they died to make a claim.
- The time limits to start a carbon monoxide poisoning claim in other countries may be shorter, so you should contact a solicitor as soon as possible to find out if you have a valid case.
For a free consultation with a legal adviser, call 0800 678 1410 or enter your details into our online claim form. They can let you know if you may be eligible to make a claim and can answer any questions you may have.