Carbon Monoxide Lawsuit Filed Over Deadly Gas Leak in Best Western Hotel Room

The family of an elderly couple who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a Best Western hotel room, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hotel chain, alleging that negligence led to a gas leak from a pool water heater under the room. 

The complaint (PDF) was filed in North Carolina Superior Court of Mecklenburg County on February 9, stemming from the 2013 death of Daryl Dean Jenkins, 73, and his wife Shirley Mae, 72, at the Best Western Blue Ridge Plaza.

The couple was found dead in Room 225 of the Best Western Blue Ridge Plaza in April 2013, and their death remained a mystery until an 11 year-old boy, Jeffrey Lee Williams, died in the same room in two months later. Williams’ mother was also severely injured by what was then discovered to be a carbon monoxide leak.

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According to allegations raised in the Best Western lawsuit, the hotel chain negligently failed to install carbon monoxide detectors in rooms, attempting to save money at the expense of the safety of guests.

Following the June 2013 death of Williams, investigators discovered that the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide leaking from a pool water heater located in a mechanical room directly under the room 225.

The Best Western had reportedly been cited earlier for deficiencies in ventilation of the mechanical room, and did not have carbon monoxide detectors in the hotel room.

The medical examiner who originally looked at the Jenkins’ bodies resigned amid allegations that the investigation into their deaths was botched and delayed.

The lawsuit claims that state building codes required that the pool heater that malfunctioned be installed by licensed contractors. However, the family claims that did not happen when the used Jandy pool heater blamed for the deaths was moved and relocated by hotel maintenance workers.

The lawsuit also notes that the manufacturer “strongly recommends installation of suitable Carbon Monoxide detectors in the vicinity of this appliance and in any adjacent occupied spaces,” yet there were none in the vicinity. The manufacturer also had specific recommendations for appropriate venting systems, which the lawsuit claims Best Western also ignored.

In addition, the lawsuit claims that the staff members, Appalachian Hospitality Management, purposefully bypassed a pressure sensing safety switch instead of properly replacing a power venter, which later failed, leading to other problems, such as excessive condensation. The lawsuit claims the employees also knew about the failure and the condensation problem, as evidenced by the placement of a bucket to catch the excess dripping water.

“Appalachian Hospitality Management employees knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, that the presence of excessive condensation was likely to cause or accelerate corrosion within the vent system which would ultimately lead to leakage of dangerous exhaust gases into the hotel building thereby endangering building occupants,” the lawsuit states.

The claims are just a few of a laundry list of mistakes and oversights that the lawsuit says led to the death of the couple.

Carbon Monoxide Health Risks

Carbon monoxide is a significantly toxic gas that has no irritating factors that can allow someone to detect its presence.

Because people often fail to promptly recognize symptoms of carbon monoxide, it is a leading cause of fatal poisonings in the United States.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide poisoning kills about 500 people in the U.S. annually, and is linked to about 15,000 emergency room visits. In many cases, the injuries or deaths could have been prevented by the use of carbon monoxide detectors and proper maintenance of heating systems and generators.

Although many states have passed legislation requiring carbon monoxide alarms in rental properties and homes, it remains rare for hotels to have carbon monoxide alarms to alert guests and staff when there is a problem.

According to a 2012 report in 2012 by USA Today, at least 170 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning injuries at hotels were identified between 2009 and 2012, including at least 8 deaths.

Image Credit: Image via 360b / Shutterstock.com

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