Gas Leak at Long Island Mall Produces New Legislation in Nassau County

On a cold Saturday night in February, New York emergency crews rushed to a mall in Huntington Station. A woman had reportedly fainted in the basement of Legal Sea Foods, a restaurant in the complex.

Upon arriving, the crews sent to rescue the woman found themselves feeling dizzy, as well. Police began to evacuate the restaurant; as they searched it for occupants, they found 55-year-old Steven Nelson, the restaurant manager. He was in the basement, lying unconscious on the floor.

He was transported to a hospital and pronounced dead.

No Odor, No Color, No Prevention

The emergency crew suspected that carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause. A few days later, investigators confirmed that there was a leak in the flue pipe of the water heater, which caused the heater’s fuel to not quite catch fire. The result was colorless, odorless carbon monoxide, which filled up the basement, undetected until it was too late. While Nelson’s was the only death, several other employees and rescue crew members were made sick by inhaling the gas.

Like any restaurant, Legal Sea Foods has undergone annual inspection. Just under a year ago, in March of 2013, the restaurant had passed its inspection. But state fire codes only require carbon monoxide detectors in establishments where people sleep. So even though the restaurant was subjected to a fine for faulty equipment, there was little chance of this problem having been prevented.

The Boston-based company issued a statement from their CEO, Roger Berkowitz, saying:

“In the wake of Saturday night’s tragic events, I have instructed our operations team to conduct an exhaustive safety check at all our restaurants. This includes not only ensuring that we meet local codes as we did in Huntington, but putting a plan in place to exceed them in order to safeguard everyone. The terrible tragedy highlights the inadequacy of the codes for carbon monoxide detectors in commercial spaces. Stronger safety measures must be put in place.”

Comprehensive Safety Measures

Berkowitz’s criticism of safety codes resonated with the Nassau County Legislature. On April 28, a rare bipartisan vote revised the fire code to require carbon monoxide alarms in all Nassau County public and commercial buildings.

While the restaurant tragedy motivated several municipal legislatures to strengthen their building codes, Nassau’s response has been unusually comprehensive. The bill passed on Monday also provides businesses with detailed training instructions in how to comply. They are instructed to install hard-wired carbon monoxide detection systems that connect to the county’s fire alarm network.

This, however, only applies at this point to new buildings and those seeking permits for major renovation. Existing buildings will be required only to install plug-in or battery-operated detectors, which are significantly cheaper than the hard-wired system.

Furthermore, according to Neal Lewis, executive director of The Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, the specified systems still allow for harmful levels of carbon monoxide before triggering the alarm. Certain places, like Hempstead and North Hempstead, require digital detectors that detail the specific carbon monoxide levels in the air. Lewis, who has pushed for comprehensive local carbon monoxide detector laws, told Newsday he would prefer to see these kinds of detectors used to ensure public safety.

Still, he added, the current Nassau County bill “goes much further than what the state law requires, and in that respect, it’s a very good thing.”

If You Need Help, Call Us

The attorneys at The Oshman Firm have successfully represented people who have suffered serious injuries from toxic poisoning and negligence in New York and New Jersey. We have handled many other medical malpractice cases as well. Contact us today if this has happened to you or a loved one.

video courtesy: CNN Justice

Ted Oshman


Ted Oshman has been with The Oshman Firm since 1988 serving clients for over 25 years. Learn more about Ted's background and featured practice areas here.

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