Forklift Operator Dies of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

    forkliftThis case takes place in Wisconsin and involves death from carbon monoxide emissions from a forklift. The decedent was working on a gas powered forklift in a warehouse. He was working in what was described as a confined workspace, with no external ventilation but fans recirculating the air inside the warehouse. The decedent was working in the warehouse and was eventually discovered lifeless with an unconscious co-worker next to him. The repair company performed oil changes and other work shortly before the accident. The plaintiff alleges that the forklift repair company had a duty to replace an old carburetor that was causing a large amount of CO to be emitted in a confined space. A carboxyhemoglobin level was obtained with a value of 60%. An expert in carbon monoxide was sought to opine on the issue.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • Can you discuss how carbon monoxide poisoning can affect the human body and a person's judgment?

    Expert Witness Response

    This is a very concerning case of severe carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning can significantly affect mental and physical function. Carboxyhemoglobin level is the main marker for carbon monoxide poisoning. At carboxyhemoglobin levels of 20% and 30%, individuals develop headache, confusion, impaired judgment, and difficulty with balance. As the level gets higher, impairment becomes worse, eventually resulting in coma and death. At a carboxyhemoglobin level of 60%, mental functioning would very likely to be extremely impaired, if the patient were still alive at all. In fact, a level of 50% is considered sufficient to cause death. In addition to affecting judgment, carbon monoxide poisoning decreases oxygen delivery, increases strain on the heart, and directly poisons heart muscle and skeletal muscle.

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