Repairman’s Error May Be Responsible for Deadly Carbon Monoxide Leak at a West Virginia Hotel

exhaust_pipe.jpgWhen you are hurt on someone else’s property and it is not your fault, you may have a case of premise liability. Premise liability is when the owner of the property fails to exercise reasonable care to keep it safe. We at the Wolfe Law Firm have represented victims in dozens of these types of cases. Usually premise liability can be found in cases of slip and fall, animal attacks, or lack of security. Other times, a potential premise liability situation can be more tragic.

Recently, a carbon monoxide leak at a Holiday Inn Express in Charleston, West Virginia resulted in one man’s death and left at least 17 other people sickened. The leak was thought to be caused by a repair worker accidentally knocking loose an exhaust pipe attached to the hotel’s swimming pool heater.

Back in mid-December, hotel officials reportedly asked a swimming pool repair company to come out and inspect the aging pool heater. The company was said to have recommended that the heater be replaced, and then cut off gas to the unit. Hotel officials then reportedly contacted Premier Pools, which replaced the pool heater before the end of the month. Either during the initial inspection or the replacement, the exhaust pipe, which ran the full height of the building, was knocked loose. As a result, an amount of carbon dioxide 20 times over the safe limit leaked out across the four floors. City inspectors never inspected the new heater, they claimed, because Premier Pools never obtained the required permit for installation. Thus, city inspectors never knew that a new heater was there. Otherwise, they might have discovered the leak before it was too late.

Premier Pools asserts that it never sought a permit because it never installed the new heater. Instead, it was merely called to do a routine change of the pool filter. At the same time, at least one hotel guest claimed that the hotel was aware of problems around the pool area. Two weeks before the deadly incident, the fire department was called when the fire alarm kept going off. Some guests worried that the alarms were caused by carbon monoxide wafting out whenever hotel staff opened doors to ventilate the pool. One guest noted that the front desk clerk had stated that the fire alarms were set off by a problem with the pool. However, whether he was referring to condensation from the pool, which can emulate smoke, is unknown.

In this situation, would you hire a West Virginia premise liability attorney to sue the Holiday Inn Express? It would depend upon whether the hotel’s management was really aware of the carbon monoxide problem — or at least that there was a significant problem — and failed to correct it. Under West Virginia premise liability laws, a property owner may be held liable if he or she were aware of an unsafe condition or should have known given the circumstances, that a dangerous condition existed. Even if the hotel did not know about the carbon monoxide leak, as long as it should have known, it could be held liable. That is because hotels are held to one of the strictest standards of premise liability, that of the invitee. If the hotel could not have known, it may be possible to find one or both of the third-party repair companies liable for negligence, once more details become known.