Coleman is one of the best known, and most popular, makers of camping products. From 1984-2004 Coleman sold over a million propane heaters. Some of these propane heaters have caused injuries and at least 75 carbon monoxide related deaths.
Coleman’s line of propane camping heaters, called Focus, are no longer manufactured, but continue to result in deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning and Coleman continues to refuse to recall the heaters. There are several models of Focus heaters which produce different amounts of heat rated in BTUs. Focus heaters were sold from 1984-1996. In 1996 Coleman discontinued the Focus line and created a more powerful version of the heaters, giving them the name PowerMate. PowerMates were sold as industrial heaters. PowerMates have also been discontinued but not recalled.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Humans have no way to detect it naturally. Propane heaters, used in an enclosed space, use up the available oxygen as they release CO. As the CO is inhaled it binds to hemoglobin blocking oxygen from the blood. The result is unconsciousness, and an inability to escape to fresh air. Oxygen deprivation, or hypoxia, becomes deadly in minutes, and can cause irreversible brain damage if survived.
When propane is not completely burned it produces higher levels of CO than when the heaters are functioning optimally. Contamination of openings in the heaters can reduce the propane flow pressure and disrupt proper burning of the fuel. Filters which protect openings from contamination were not installed on the Focus 5 heaters until 1992. About 500,000 of the heaters were sold prior to the addition of the filters, but were never recalled.
An oxygen depletion sensor (ODS) can be used to detect CO poisoning danger. ODS systems have been used on propane heaters for decades, but the Coleman heaters were never equipped with them.
Comparable heaters often have a safety feature which causes them to shut down on their own when oxygen levels begin to drop, and before dangerous levels are reached. The Coleman heaters do not employ this safety device either. In simple terms, the Coleman propane heaters have a design defect that may harm thousands of innocent people.
Although Coleman claims that neither the Focus nor the PowerMate heaters were ever intended to be used indoors or in enclosed areas, both lines were clearly marketed for indoor use.
The Focus line was marketed specifically for camping. The heaters are used inside of tents, where campfires are not an option, to produce heat. The amount of ventilation which would be necessary to safely run the heater inside of a tent would negate its heating capability.
The PowerMate heaters were sold as industrial heaters. Coleman claims that they are not meant for indoor use, but even the picture on the box shows the heater being used inside of a garage.
Coleman has tried to claim that it is obvious that the heaters should not be used indoors and conducted a survey to back up this claim. The attempt backfired when the survey results proved that a large percentage of consumers assumed that the heaters were safe for various types of indoor use.
Although the heaters are no longer manufactured, millions are still in use and pose an ever-growing danger of CO poisoning as they deteriorated and function less efficiently with age.
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed by CO poisoning while using a propane heater, please email one of our experience product liability attorneys today.