Court Finds Plaintiff’s Theory of Causation Was Sufficient in Case Involving Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

In many Virginia personal injury cases, the most contested element is that of causation. Essentially, to establish causation, a plaintiff must be able to show that their injuries were a legal and proximate result of the defendant’s negligent actions. While this may sound like it would be a straightforward determination, in reality, issues of causation are often quite complex.

A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court illustrates how courts interpret causation challenges to a plaintiff’s case. The case involved a used-car dealer that allegedly sold the plaintiffs a car without a muffler.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs purchased a used car with 180,000 miles for $1,500 from the defendant dealership. While the plaintiffs were made aware of some of the car’s mechanical issues, at no point were the plaintiffs told that the car was being sold without a muffler.

After riding in the car for a while, the plaintiffs noticed a smell of gas in the cabin, and one of the plaintiffs checked under the hood for an exhaust leak. Finding nothing, the plaintiff had the car’s oil changed. Although the mechanic mentioned several other mechanical issues with the vehicle, he did not note that the muffler was missing.

Not long after that, the couple arranged to meet a landlord to view an apartment for rent. The couple waited in the car with their minor son. The windows were initially rolled down, but the plaintiffs rolled them up when it began to rain. When the couple’s son went to exit the car, he collapsed. He later started having a seizure, at which point the plaintiffs took him to the emergency room. All three were diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning.

The plaintiffs brought a product liability case against the dealership, alleging that the dealership was negligent in selling them the car without a muffler. The plaintiffs had two expert witnesses testify to help establish their claim.

First, a fire captain who handled carbon monoxide incidents testified that vehicles emit carbon monoxide, which is a hazardous gas. The witness also explained that a vehicle’s exhaust system – including its muffler – is designed to expel all hazardous gas out the rear of the vehicle so that it does not end up seeping into the cabin of the vehicle. The witness explained that the plaintiffs’ account of what happened was consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning.

The second witness was one of the doctors who treated the plaintiffs at the hospital. He testified that the plaintiffs were diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning. He also testified that the plaintiffs smelled like exhaust when they arrived at the hospital.

The dealership claimed that the plaintiffs failed to present evidence establishing that the act of selling the car without the muffler was the cause of their injuries. However, the court rejected that argument and held that the case should be submitted to the jury for resolution. The court explained that the evidence presented by the plaintiffs as well as the testimony from the expert witnesses raised a material fact regarding the cause of their carbon monoxide poisoning. Factoring into this decision, the court held, was the fact that there was no alternative explanation for the plaintiffs’ poisoning.

Have You Been Hurt by a Dangerous Product?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured by a dangerous product, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Virginia product liability lawsuit. At the law offices of Charles B. Roberts, P.C., we represent victims in a wide range of Virginia personal injury cases, including product liability cases. To learn more about how we may be able to help you receive compensation for your injuries, call 703-491-7070 to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Roberts.

See More Blog Posts:

Court Rejects Plaintiff’s Uninsured Motorist Claim in Recent Car Accident Case, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, June 5, 2018.

Court Discusses the Doctrine of Imputed Negligence in Recent Car Accident Case, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, May 4, 2018.