Carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States.
More than 15,000 people are treated annually in hospital emergency rooms for carbon monoxide gassing, and approximately 500 people a year die from the poisoning. Its danger is heightened by the fact that it is a colorless and odorless gas and, therefore, may not be detected by its victims. More than half of the carbon monoxide deaths involve faulty heating systems, and 71% of the deaths are caused by consumer products in the home.
Robert Schuster has been at the leading edge of carbon monoxide and brain injury case prosecution. As a carbon monoxide lawyer, he has represented victims of carbon monoxide gassing from North Carolina, Wyoming, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Illinois, and Georgia.
Two hotel guests were gassed by carbon monoxide at the Snake River Lodge & Spa in Teton Village, Wyoming, a hotel that Vail Resorts owned and managed through its subsidiary corporations. The guests — Dr. and Mrs. Randall Williams — were attending a medical conference at the resort. Dr. Williams, a urologist from Columbus, North Carolina, was killed and his wife, a cardiac surgery nurse, suffered permanent brain injury from the poisoning.
The hot water for the hotel was supplied by a propane-fired boiler, which was equipped with a safety shutdown switch to prevent dangerous levels of carbon monoxide from being produced. The hotel had located a dryer vent too close to the air intake for the boiler. Lint from the dryer vents was sucked into the boiler's air intake, clogged the burner screen, and thereby starved the boiler of needed oxygen. With insufficient oxygen, combustion of the propane was incomplete, and carbon monoxide was produced as a byproduct of the incomplete burning. Under those circumstances, the safety shutdown switch would activate and turn off the boiler so that carbon monoxide would not be produced.
When the safety switch was triggered, it caused the boiler to shut down, which then resulted in complaints from guests that their showers were cold. The hotel's response was to place a jumper, or electrical bypass, across the safety switch (thereby disabling it) so that the boiler would not turn off. Hot showers were preserved, but guest safety was dangerously sacrificed. A perfectly safe hot water boiler had been converted into a deadly carbon monoxide generator. When Dr. and Mrs. Williams checked into the hotel, they were assigned to a room directly above the exhaust for the boiler, which had a safety shutdown switch that had been jumpered for more than four months. The carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas, was sucked into their room through the air conditioning ducts, and they were asphyxiated.
Bob Schuster — together with the Murdock Law Firm, P.C. — represented Mrs. Williams for her personal injury case and the family of Dr. Williams for the wrongful death case. Both cases were consolidated for trial in the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming, and the jury returned a verdict of $17.5 Million — the largest personal injury verdict in Wyoming's history.