Mother says she and her minor child were victims of carbon monoxide poisoning

By Nicholas Malfitano | Sep 24, 2018

PHILADELPHIA – Proceedings are ongoing in an action in which a Philadelphia woman claims negligence on the part of multiple defendants led her and her minor daughter to suffer medical complications as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Cassandra Felder (individually and as parent/guardian of Samiyah Felder, a minor) of Philadelphia initially filed suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on Jan. 5, 2016 versus Nick Olga Gotsak of Willow Grove and Angel Heating & Cooling, Inc. of Philadelphia.

“On Jan. 11, 2012, plaintiff Cassandra Felder and Olga Gotsak entered into a Lease Agreement whereby plaintiffs resided on the premises until on or about Sept. 15, 2014. Upon information and belief, in approximately November 2012, plaintiff Cassandra Felder noticed a strong smell being emitted on the residence from the gas heater,” the suit says.

“Plaintiff notified the defendant of the smell and requested that maintenance inspect and/or repair the heater, or otherwise fix the source of the smell. After the defendant received this notification, her agents and/or employees inspected the heating unit, but refused to acknowledge that the heater was defective and/or required repair. At that time, there was no evidence of a carbon monoxide leak, but defendant was placed on notice about the smell being emitted from the heater.”

After months of increasing illness, the plaintiff contacted Philadelphia Gas Works about the heater, PGW conducted an inspection and determined the gas heater was carbonized and the chimney showed signs of carbonization, the suit says. The technician shut off the heater and instructed the condition needed to be repaired, the suit says.

On Jan. 16, 2014, the plaintiffs were admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Plaintiffs experienced, in part, headaches, dizziness, blurred visions, pain, confusion, behavioral changes, insomnia, fatigue, and other physical and mental injuries. On Jan. 16, 2014, plaintiff Cassandra Felder’s carboxyhemoglobin level measured at 6.5. The normal range for non-smokers is 0.5 to 1.5,” according to the complaint.

“The half-life of carboxyhemoglobin is approximately 4 hours on ambient air and thus was at least several points, if not significantly, higher at the time that she left the exposure. Upon information and belief, the gas heater was never properly repaired and remained shut off by PGW until the plaintiffs moved out of the residence on Sept. 15, 2014.”

On Sept. 5, 2014, the Philadelphia Housing Authority declared that defendant failed the re-inspection of the unit and that the unit continued to be in violation of federal regulations for failure to maintain the property, in part due to defendant’s failure to service the heater for winter and ensure that the unit was safe, the suit says.

At all times material hereto, defendant’s residence contained one carbon monoxide alarm dated in 2001 that was defective and/or expired, and otherwise failed to detect the carbon monoxide leak, the suit says. The defective and/or expired carbon monoxide alarm allegedly failed to alert the plaintiffs that they were being exposed to carbon monoxide for months.

On Oct. 24, 2014, plaintiff Cassandra Felder was declared temporarily disabled, due to headaches and severe fatigue, and remains partially disabled.

“Since the time of this exposure, plaintiffs continue to suffer from headaches, fatigue, memory problems, and behavioral changes. All of the above are consistent with damage caused by chronic exposure to sublethal levels of carbon monoxide,” the suit says.

The plaintiffs allege the defendants failed to identify the presence of a carbon monoxide leak, failed to properly inspect the gas heater upon notification and failed to properly repair and/or maintain the gas heater, among other charges.

Through subsequent arbitration proceedings, the plaintiffs were awarded a total of $25,000. But the defense filed a motion on Sept. 8, 2017, to compel the plaintiffs to provide it with an executed release and to file a petition for leave to settle or compromise a minor’s action.

Three weeks later, plaintiff counsel requested the following distribution of settlement proceeds, as a counsel fee of 10 percent was approved and 100 percent to Cassandra Felder, due to sufficient evidence showing Cassandra’s carbon monoxide poisoning was caused by the defendant’s actions, but Samiyah’s was not:

• Locks Law Firm (Counsel Fees) - $2,500

• Locks Law Firm (Reimbursement of Expenses and Costs) - $8,467.62

• Adult Plaintiff (Cassandra Felder) - $14,032.38

• Minor Plaintiff (Samiyah Felder) - $0

On Aug. 17, plaintiff counsel filed a motion for withdrawal of appearance, questioning the plaintiff’s refusal to sign the paperwork associated with the petition for approval of settlement, undersigned counsel to move forward with filing the petition and distributing the funds.

“Due to plaintiff’s refusal to sign the paperwork associated with the petition for approval of settlement, counsel is unable to move forward with filing the petition and distributing the funds. Based on the inability of plaintiff and counsel to resolve their differences and proceed with the final steps in this case, counsel respectfully requests the Court grant leave to withdraw as counsel for the plaintiffs,” the withdrawal motion reads.

On Sept. 21, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Daniel J. Anders marked the plaintiff’s withdrawal motion as moot.  

For counts of negligence against all defendants, the plaintiff was seeking damages in excess of $50,000, plus compensatory damages, interest, costs and delay damages plus other and further relief as this Court deems just and appropriate.

The plaintiff is represented by Michael B. Leh and Sharice C. Wallace of Locks Law Firm and Qawi Abdul-Rahman, all in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Steven N. Cherry of Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris Ledva & Meyers and Gregory F. Mondjack Sr., both in Philadelphia, and Michael S. Miller Jr. of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, in King of Prussia.

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 160100332

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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Locks Law Firm Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas

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