If you think you may have been poisoned by carbon monoxide (CO) or other products of combustion or other fuel toxins you may need proof of this either to use in a legal case or just to convince your doctor or family that you haven’t been imagining your symptoms, (which could have been and/or are continuing to be quite severe).
Proof of exposure to CO is vital if you are to be believed, if you need medical treatment or if you wish to take court proceedings. No lawyer, however good, can help you prove a case, where there is no proof.
Because CO leaves the body quickly if the person affected survives and is in fresh air, the most reliable way to test for CO is to test the emissions from appliances. Of course if you suspect any appliance you should get out of the house or accommodation and ring the Gas Emergency Service Tel. 0800 111999 and they will come and turn off your appliance and/or gas supply. However, the Gas Emergency Service does NOT carry or use any equipment to test for CO or other products of combustion other than what they wear for their own protection.
To obtain an investigation of your appliances (and we suggest that the air you breathe for example, at work, in your car etc. should also be tested) you will need an expert and we recommend that he or she is a member of the Academy of Experts and approved by your legal adviser. Most charge about £1,800 or even £3,000 (e.g. CORGI Services Tel. 012563 72200). You may have a landlord or a CORGI installer who wants your permission to put the appliance right.
If you want to be able to prove CO, do not let anyone touch your appliance (other than to turn it off or disconnect) until you have had an investigating expert test for CO and other products of combustion. If the police or HSE are involved you will have to allow their expert to investigate. HSE will disclose their factual report of the investigation if you request it, but only after any prosecution has taken place. This means you may not receive this report for some years so it is wise to have both experts present at the same time so you can receive your own report straightaway. A private report will incur considerable costs but this will probably be your only chance of finding out how much CO you were exposed to and why. Please note If you think it is too costly to obtain such an expert and you are not sure if you’ve been poisoned or not it may be possible to find a registered gas installer qualified under CMDDA1. Please contact us for details.
Only the Crown Prosecution Service can prosecute an imprisonable offence in these cases, (after a police investigation). There have been seven successful prosecutions for manslaughter by gross negligence against landlords and fitters with resulting terms of imprisonment, (from 9 months suspended to 5 years immediate) with regard to the deaths of Sonja Hyams (Nov. 1996), Paul Foster (Feb. 1996), Catherine Walsh (Feb. 1997), Mohammed Ali (Apr. 1998), Christopher Woffenden (Feb. 1999) and Michael Frosdick with Keith Reynolds (Mar 2003). An installer has been found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence as a result of the tragic death of Zoe Anderson in December 2010. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can only prosecute offences for which the only punishment is a fine in these cases.
If you have suffered personal injury as a result of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning, consider bringing a civil legal action against your landlord and/or gas fitter etc. This will hopefully deter him/her from causing CO poisoning to others as well as providing you with some recompense. You will need:
- A good solicitor. We can send you a list of victim or union recommended solicitors. A good personal injury lawyer should be acceptable but ask the solicitor if they have done anything similar before. However, it is more important that you like the solicitor, that he or she is not too busy and that he or she is efficient than that he or she has a knowledge of CO. We can assist the solicitor with this and evidence gathering. You may be eligible for Legal Aid (unlikely nowadays) or you could try a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, (personal injuries). ‘No win, no fee’ can be a helpful way to proceed but remember that lawyers usually cherry pick the easiest to prove cases. You may have to pay quite a lot for an insurance policy against losing. This way of payment should also cover:-
- An expert engineer’s report. Do NOT rely on the report which may be prepared by the Health and Safety Executive, as whatever you are told, this report is privileged and you are extremely unlikely to receive it. If HSE is undertaking an investigation and wants to examine your appliance, we suggest you do your utmost to ensure that your expert investigates along with the HSE expert, (because the evidence you may wish to rely upon will be altered or destroyed by the investigation itself so all experts should undertake such an investigation together). Ideally a report should show a reading of CO in parts per million (ppm) from your appliance and also present in your room. This measurement is usually made with a flue gas analyzer. You should also ask the expert to measure other products of combustion. You might be able to find someone to measure for the other toxins. We might be able to assist you.
- Evidence to show you have been exposed to CO and/ or other products of combustion/toxins and that you have suffered damage, (e.g. ideally, a blood test and expert doctor’s report. It is possible to obtain a urine analysis for the other toxins – see under ‘Other Toxins’ and ‘Blood tests’ on the home page).
Legal aid may be obtainable for inquests but it isn’t easy to obtain. We strongly recommend that families obtain legal representation for the inquest, especially if they need to find out more about the circumstances of the death. We urge families to contact lawyers as soon as possible after a death, as they may be able to obtain evidence before it is lost. There is a great deal that a good lawyer can do to help if contacted sooner rather than later. CO-Gas Safety can provide a list of lawyers recommended by victims or by Trade Unions or try Inquest Tel. 0207 263 1111.