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The ironies of two separate fatal carbon monoxide catastrophes occurring within one room in the Best Western Inn in Boone, North Carolina are numerous. However, at the core of this debate should be the monitoring of such properties, by the national chains that put their brands on them, such as Best Western. When customer sees a brand name on a hotel, it creates a sense of trust, reliance that the chain is not only offering a clean, comfortable room, but also a safe room. This incident, like almost every other hotel related carbon monoxide death, shows such reliance is false.
On Saturday, June 8, 2013, one person was found dead and another succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning, in Room 225 of the Best Western Hotel in Boone. What makes this a sensational story is that this is the second fatal incident involving carbon monoxide in that same room this year. Daryl and Shirley Jenkins, both of Longview, Washington, also died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Room 225 on April 16.
While those from the public health department are now leaping to give press conferences now that the story has gone virile, see http://www.hcpress.com/crime-reports/das-office-contacted-criminal-investigation-begun-into-three-deaths-in-room-225-of-best-western.html one has to ask why this level of investigation wasn’t done after the first deaths? Where was the outcry, where was the detailed forensic evaluation, where was the health department, the criminal investigation? Was one set of avoidable deaths not enough?
The bigger irony in this story is the question is where was the Best Western chain, while all of this was happening? Do they care? Did they send out an investigator? Did they simply rely on some boiler plate language that the hotel operator was an independent contractor, whose actual operation of the hotel, was not the Best Western’s responsibility? According to wikipedia.org, “
Unlike other chains, which are often a mix of company-owned and franchised units, each Best Western hotel is an independently owned and operated franchise. Best Western does not offer franchises in the traditional sense (where both franchisee and franchisor are operating for-profit), however. Instead, Best Western operates as a nonprofit membership association, with each franchisee acting and voting as a member of the association in the manner of a marketing co-operative.
Does this Best Western association share any blame? Do they have any responsibility to investigate what is happening to their brand when people die under the Best Western roof? Regardless of how such issue is determined in court, the consumer has to fight back. When you check into a brand name hotel, you should be able to rely on the fact that someone has trained the operator of that hotel in basic public safety. You should also be able to rely on the fact that when a fatal incident has occurred, the accountability for that will move up the ladder and that the chain whose brand is at stake, will make sure that the fatal conditions have been corrected.
Carbon monoxide may be invisible and odorless and has been called the silent killer. Regardless, it is not hard to detect. CO detectors will warn of the risk as routinely as smoke detectors do. Further, the conditions which cause carbon monoxide to occur, are predictable. Carbon monoxide gets into inside air when a combustion (fire) occurs, with insufficient fresh air, for complete combustion. Complete combustion of a carbon fuel (natural gas), creates CO2, not CO. A hot water heater running efficiently with enough fresh air to burn, shouldn’t create serious risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, as the exhaust should be largely CO2. But far more critical is that the exhaust from any combustion, must be properly vented not only from the inside space, but also away from the building. If there is the right combustion pressure within the building, the exhausts, regardless of how toxic, should flow all the way up the chimney.
While the exact cause of this CO leak has yet to be determined, a reasonable prediction is that this hot water heater was running in an environment where there was negative pressure inside of the building. What that means is that there was not enough fresh air flowing through the flame of the hot water heater, to not only assure that there was complete combustion, but that the exhaust would flow freely up the chimney.
The public must demand not only that this hotel be punished for these wrongful deaths, but that all hotel chains, not just the Best Westerns, be operated by individuals with sufficient expertise and training in HVAC systems. Hotel owners/operators must understand the basics of having a controlled fire inside the four walls of their buildings. Most hotels are run by small businesses, with only minimal training of employees. Yet we entrust our very lives to them every night when we are on the road. The national brands must demand not only such incident never happen twice in the same room, but that carbon monoxide moves from the category of an invisible killer, to a known assailant that must be prevented from attacking the innocent.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justiceg@gordonjohnson.com
:: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.