By Dan Cytryn, Esquire
South Florida Lawyer Experienced in Handling Carbon Monoxide Death Cases in Palm Beach County
Palm Beach County experienced a large rise in the number of carbon monoxide incidents in 2010, with 30 carbon monoxide poisonings and three deaths, compared to four poisonings and two deaths in 2009.
Carbon monoxide has no smell or color, making it hard to detect until your body feels the effects. According to officials, two major contributing factors to carbon monoxide poisonings are: A vehicle left running in a garage and a lack of carbon monoxide detectors in people's homes.
Recently there have been several news stories linking carbon monoxide poisoning to keyless entry vehicles. In August 2010, a 29-year-old Boca Raton woman died from carbon monoxide poisoning after her car was left running in the garage. The vehicle, a 2006 Lexus with keyless entry, is being investigated as the cause of her death.
Another case involves a New York attorney, who died, and his companion, who suffered brain damage, from carbon monoxide poisoning after leaving a Lexus running in their garage. In November 2010 a lawsuit was filed against Toyota, which manufactures Lexus, for this tragedy. The suit blames Toyota for failure to include a "shutdown" switch that would shut off the ignition automatically when a vehicle is accidentally left running.
You may be thinking 'How can someone leave their engine running without knowing?' With this new technology and extremely quiet engines, it's easier than you may think. Here's my personal story on how easy it can be to leave your keyless entry car running without realizing it:
On a rainy South Florida afternoon this summer, I went shopping at Sam's Club. It was lightning, and I was nervous about getting struck, as the lightening was loud and close.
I quickly exited my vehicle, and as I was hurrying to get into Sam's, I hit my keyless entry system to lock the car. As I hurried towards the store, I saw a flashing, and heard a beeping, but figured I didn't close a door correctly, but because of the lightning storm, I continued into the store. I shopped, and spent nearly an hour inside. After shopping, when I went back to my car, I saw that the exterior car lights were still on. I opened the door, and then realized that the engine had been running the whole time I was in the store. Yep, I had left my 2010 Jaguar running the entire hour that I was shopping at Sam's (so the Jaguar could have been yours, had you happened upon it).
You may think, "How could he just leave his car running without realizing it?" or "That couldn't happen to me." But I have been uncomfortable with this keyless system for quite some time now (I've had the car for about one year). I'm very concerned about the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if a car is left running in a garage. So I've refused to pull the car into the garage, and instead, I park it in front of the house.
Before this particular day, I noticed that if I had the key in my pocket, opened the door and walked out of the car without shutting the car off, the car would remain running even if I went into my house with the car key. I found it unbelievable that the car would remain running with no key in the car. I then said to my wife that I am not parking my car in the garage.
Having dealt with carbon monoxide cases as an attorney representing the families of victims who have died, the last thing I want is for me or my family to become victims. So, my car sits in front of the house (we do supposedly have carbon monoxide detectors in the house-they are combined smoke alarms/carbon monoxide detectors. I just don't necessarily trust the detectors).
It amazes me that in 2010, a top-notch automobile manufacturer such as Jaguar would allow their vehicles to continue to run without any emergency cut-off or shut-off if the keyless "key" is removed from the vicinity of the vehicle. In other words, why doesn't the car shut off if somebody is 25 feet from the vehicle? What's the purpose of allowing a vehicle to run if somebody is that far from their vehicle, or 100 yards, or whatever the distance may be?
So I see it now, as in the case of the New York lawyer and his companion: People unnecessarily dying because a car manufacturer makes a defective system. Everybody likes new gadgets and toys, but there have to be safety precautions when vehicles are manufactured.
And yet, Jaguar manufactures a car that apparently will continue to run without a key in the ignition no matter how far the driver is from the car, until the car runs out of gas. A car like that sitting in a garage is a potential death trap.
I hope that Jaguar and other car manufacturers take note. I have made the mistake of leaving my car running without realizing it, and I'm sure many other people are also making this mistake. I just hope this mistake is not happening in people's garages. And when it does, product liability lawsuits will be filed against car manufacturers who make defective keyless entry systems.
If you say to yourself, "Well, he was completely at fault," human beings make mistakes. As we have said in many a trial: "That's why they make erasers on pencils, because human beings make mistakes."
With a pencil, however, a mistake usually doesn't involve life and death. In this case, with keyless car starting devices, it already has.