Schools hold fire drills, plan for weather emergencies, and spend millions of tax dollars on security. Yet, most states have no requirement to protect school children from one of the greatest risks while learning: carbon monoxide.
Five lawsuits have been filed in connection with the September 2014 carbon monoxide leak at a southern middle school that sent dozens of students and teachers to the hospital. According to the lawsuits, the plaintiffs, three adults and guardians of two children, are suffering from ongoing medical issues. An attorney said more tests are needed to determine the full nature of damages, but some plaintiffs have been struggling with memory and cognitive issues.
The leak happened early during the school day. When students began complaining they did not feel well, and their symptoms fell in line with carbon monoxide poisoning, the school was immediately evacuated. The local gas utility company was called in to shut off the gas, but as it turned out, gas was not the culprit. Colder temperatures over the weekend caused the furnaces in the building to kick on. A faulty pipe on the furnace was found to be the cause of the carbon monoxide leak.
The suits allege that when an addition to the school was designed and constructed in 2003, the venting system for the hot water heaters in the mechanical room was defective. That resulted in a later modification that extended the vent pipe high above the roof and required guy wires. According to documents, one of those guy wires to the vent pipe was broken. After the incident, carbon monoxide detectors were installed in the school.
Every year, more than 450 people die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Another 20,000 people are seen at the hospital. The case in Illinois was not isolated. There have been over 20 schools evacuated because of a carbon monoxide leak since 2007, most recently in Atlanta, Nashville and Kansas City. It would seem that CO detectors should be on par with smoke alarms and sprinkler systems, yet California, Connecticut, Maine and Maryland are the only states that require carbon monoxide detectors in school buildings. The incident in Illinois led lawmakers to require public schools to install carbon monoxide detectors. They have until January 1, 2016. Let’s hope that other states prioritize the need and carbon monoxide detectors will be coming to a school near you soon.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.