Carbon monoxide poisoning: court awards damages for faulty fireplace installation
In Edwards v. Parkinson’s Heating Ltd., 2015 BCSC 1094 the plaintiffs claimed that they were exposed to and suffered injuries from carbon monoxide (“CO”) emissions from their living room fireplace. That fireplace had been removed and later reinstalled and serviced by the defendant Parkinson’s Heating Ltd. (“Parkinson’s”). The plaintiffs claimed that both Kenorah Construction and Design Ltd. (“Kenorah”) as general contractor and Parkinson’s were both jointly and severally responsible for the negligent installation of the living room fireplace and that the subsequent negligent servicing by Parkinson’s alone, each independently caused their damages.
After the fireplace had been serviced and inspected, on January 1, 2010, the plaintiffs awoke in their bedroom with severe headaches. They felt unwell over the next several days. A gas leak was suspected, carbon monoxide was found emitting from the living room fireplace near the fireplace venting, and an inspection found that the screw designed to secure the draft hood to the spill tube, which vents CO and other exhaust gases from the fireplace up the chimney and out of the house, was missing. The technician noted that the draft hood was back from the spill tube, which caused a gap allowing the carbon monoxide to vent directly into the plaintiffs’ home. The technician reconnected the draft hood and replaced the missing screw using a spare one in his toolbox and tested for carbon monoxide leakage. High levels of carbon monoxide were found present in the residence. Carbon monoxide exposure can affect people in variable ways including brain injury, neuropsychological deficits, neurobehavioural changes, sensory-motor changes, gross neurological deficits, cognitive disorders and depression.
After reviewing the evidence and testimony from the experts. The court found
- Kenorah owed the plaintiffs a duty of care with respect to the 2008 reinstallation of the fireplace. Parkinson’s owed the plaintiffs duties of care with respect to both the 2008 reinstallation and the subsequent servicing of the fireplace;
- The standard of care for installing and servicing the fireplace required the following: (a) Reasonably inspect the fireplace to ensure it was: (i) operating in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications (per s. 57 of the Gas Safety Regulations); and (ii) was venting in a safe and proper manner (per s. 57 of the Gas Safety Regulations); (b) Reasonably test for carbon monoxide emissions using a suitable carbon monoxide detector; and (c) Repair or remediate any defects or problems that would interfere with the safe operation and venting of the fireplace;
- Kenorah did not breach the standard of care with respect to the 2008 reinstallation. Parkinson’s breached the standard of care with respect to subsequent servicing of the fireplace as he was required to reasonably test for carbon monoxide emissions using a suitable carbon monoxide detector. The breaches occurred on February 10, 2009, and November 13, 2009;
- As a result of Parkinson’s breach that occurred on November 13, 2009, the plaintiffs were exposed to carbon monxide in their residence, from that date until January 4, 2010, at levels above 50 ppm but less that 1000 ppm
- Prior to the carbon monoxide exposure, Dr. Pinel had brain abnormalities, which included hippocampal atrophy and white matter changes. He also had behavioural and cognitive problems, such as forgetfulness, fatigue, and mild depression.
- Prior to the carbon monoxide exposure, Ms. Edwards had brain abnormalities, which included hippocampal atrophy and white matter changes. She also had anxiety, depression, and mood disorders, and cognitive problems involving verbal and visual learning
- As a result of the carbon monoxide exposure, both Dr. Pinel’s and Ms. Edwards’s hippocampal atrophies were accelerated. The carbon monoxide exposure caused Dr. Pinel’s depression to worsen, and Ms. Edwards’s depression, anxiety, and mood disorders to worsen.
In determining the appropriate amount of damages, the court awarded damages for pain and suffering to Ms. Edwards in the amount of $50,000 and to Dr. Pinel in the amount of $200,000. The court also awarded a cost of care award in the amount of $53,000 and out-of-pocket costs in the amount of $5,792.
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