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In June, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper noticed a 2006 Porsche Cayenne that hit a guardrail; the damage to the vehicle was minor. When he approached the vehicle, the trooper found the engine running, the radio on, and a woman and young child dead inside. A strong odor coming from the vehicle forced him back. Additional help arrived; some of those troopers reported breathing problems. However, no substance was found in the vehicle. Police did confirm at the scene that the victims did not die from the crash.

After months of intensive investigation on the SUV, an Orlando assistant medical examiner has ruled that the woman and her three-year-old daughter died of hydrogen sulfide intoxication, resulting from a defective battery. Although there was no indication of the substance in the victim’s blood, he found elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide in their urine. The battery has been sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for more testing. “Darkened coins” found in the SUV were sent to a lab in Ohio in hopes of determining that the substance on them is hydrogen sulfide. Until those results come back, the medical examiner says he will not officially release hydrogen sulfide as the cause of death. If his results are confirmed, the next question is how did this happen?

Investigators who responded to the scene said they believed the vehicle had just had some kind of work done on it; a mechanic’s receipt was found on the passenger seat of the car and there were paper mats on the floor. No reports have suggested what the repairs were or indicated who performed them.

Vehicle identification records confirm that the woman bought the Cayenne in May at a buy-here-pay-here type of dealership. What happened with the vehicle prior to her taking ownership may still be a mystery, at least in part? The owner of the dealership confirmed the purchase, but said the SUV had never been involved in a crash prior to the woman taking ownership. He said the only work his company did on the vehicle was some upholstery repairs to the back passenger seat. A representative from the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner’s Office said the battery was not the original battery for the vehicle, nor the correct one. She went on to say that it is believed that the battery malfunctioned. Unlike many vehicles which have the battery under the hood, the Porsche Cayenne battery is found under the driver’s seat.

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless but highly toxic gas that has a distinctive rotten-egg odor. Just a few breaths of this gas can cause shock, convulsions, coma, and even death. Should motorists be alarmed?

The Medical Examiner’s Office said no. Despite the number of lead acid batteries used in vehicles, they could not find another case of fatal hydrogen sulfide poisoning caused by a car battery. All reported deaths caused by hydrogen sulfide have been on-the-job fatalities in fields such as mining, oil and gas refining, and manufacturing. Although this tragic accident is rare, it still must be taken seriously and investigate to the fullest to determine if negligence played a role.

  • Who put in the wrong battery and why?
  • Was the wrong battery in the vehicle when it was sold to the woman?
  • Was the dealership aware of the wrong battery?
  • Was the battery defective or misused causing the gases to escape?
  • Was the battery not secured properly causing it to move and the gases to escape when the woman crashed into the guardrail?
  • Did the recent repairs play a role?
  • Did another motorist in some way cause the crash, such as cutting the woman off causing her to hit the guardrail?
  • Why was the vehicle still running? Was the woman knocked unconscious from the crash?
  • How long after the crash happened were the victims discovered?

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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