On July 25, 2011, twelve (12) people staying at a Norman, Oklahoma hotel were taken to the hospital after breathing toxic levels of carbon monoxide (CO), which is is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death.
Firefighters arrived at the Sooner Legends Inn and Suites after a 3-year-old child became ill and was taken to the hospital. The firefighters detected carbon monoxide and evacuated the hotel.
Deputy Fire Chief Jim Bailey says the cause of the carbon monoxide was determined to be from a damaged, leaking ventilation pipe running from the boiler to the roof.
CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned by breathing it.
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.
It is critical thatall gas appliances must be vented so that CO will not build up. Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum, or something else. This kind of patch can make CO build up. Horizontal vent pipes to fuel appliances should not be perfectly level. Indoor vent pipes should go up slightly as they go toward outdoors. This helps prevent CO or other gases from leaking if the joints or pipes aren’t fitted tightly.
It is unclear at this stage what caused the ventilation pipe to be damaged and whether the hotel knew about the damaged pipe and did nothing to properly repair it prior to the hotel guests being evacuated.
Safety of guests should always be a hotel’s first concern. The hotel and its insurer could be liable for large damages if the patrons were seriously injured or die. If it turns out the hotel was aware it had a damaged leaking ventilation pipe and did not take proper steps to look out for the safety of its guests, punitive damages might even be awarded to send a message to hotels around the country that hotels must put the safety of guests first.