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Asphyxiation, more commonly known as suffocation, is a critical condition where the body does not receive the necessary oxygen. And considering how important oxygen is to our very existence, this can result in brain damage or death within just a few minutes. The body's need for oxygen is constant, so any interruption – no matter how small – can mean dire consequences. 

One of the most common causes of suffocation is choking on an object, such as food. When you choke, it means that air is partially reaching your lungs, but not in sufficient amounts. Your body instinctively tries to expel the obstructing item by coughing. Based on this, if the obstruction is not cleared quickly, there is a risk of losing consciousness. 

It can also result from medical conditions. Certain diseases affect the lungs' ability to function properly, reducing the flow of oxygen into the bloodstream. This risk is particularly high in very young children and the elderly, whose respiratory systems are more vulnerable. Inhaling toxic gases, like carbon monoxide, in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation also presents a suffocation hazard. 

How Suffocation Can Impact Your Body

Your brain is highly sensitive to oxygen (O2) levels. It relies on a constant O2 supply to function properly. Even a brief interruption can cause hypoxia and anoxia. Hypoxia refers to low levels of oxygen in the brain, while anoxia means a complete lack of oxygen. Both conditions can lead to brain damage.

Within 4 to 6 minutes of not receiving any, your brain cells can begin to die. After about 4 minutes without oxygen, cells start to experience damage, and by 6 minutes, this damage can become irreversible, resulting in lifelong cognitive impairments, memory loss, coma, or in severe cases, death. 

Every cell in your body, including those in your heart, requires oxygen to function. Your heart muscles get oxygen from the blood circulating through your coronary arteries. In the absence of oxygen, your heart cannot work as it should and it fails to produce the energy it needs to pump blood effectively. Prolonged oxygen deprivation, even for less than 5 minutes, can cause arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) or ischemia (where heart muscle cells die), which is the basis of a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Not to mention the struggle to breathe can cause severe stress on your respiratory system. Fluid can accumulate in your lungs (a condition known as pulmonary edema) and make breathing even more difficult. As suffocation progresses, your kidneys, liver, and other vital organs can start to fail, which eventually translates to death. 

In children, suffocation can be even more deadly. Babies and young children have a higher metabolic rate, so they consume oxygen more quickly. This leads to a faster depletion of oxygen in situations of suffocation, making them more vulnerable to the adverse effects of oxygen deprivation. The brains of infants and young children are still developing; even a brief period of suffocation can cause more long-lasting damage in children than in adults, including potential impacts on cognitive, motor, and neurodevelopmental functions.

The Law Offices of Michael S. Lamonsoff
woman having trouble breathing

Who Is Held Liable in a Suffocation Accident? 

If suffocation is the result of an intentional act, such as in an assault, the individual responsible can be held liable. This also applies in cases of negligence, such as a caregiver or babysitter failing to monitor a child or a coworker knowingly creating a hazardous situation. If it’s caused by an unsafe product (like toys, household appliances, or industrial equipment), you can sue the manufacturer under product liability laws. Retailers and distributors might also share blame if they sold a product they knew or should have known was dangerous. 

In cases where asphyxia occurs due to conditions on a property, such as poor ventilation leading to a buildup of toxic fumes, you can file a lawsuit against the property owner or manager, be it your landlord, a business, or a local government agency.  

Your employer can be held accountable if your suffocation was a result of non-compliance with occupational safety standards or negligence in maintaining a safe work environment. This includes the construction company or contractor overseeing the site, if you were suffocated due to a trench collapse or being trapped under debris. 

If suffocation occurs in a school or childcare setting (like choking on small objects or playground accidents), the institution and its staff can be held liable. In cases of medical negligence, doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, hospitals, or other healthcare facilities can be held responsible. 

What Kind of Damages Can You Recover? 

You may be able to obtain compensation for:

  • Your treatment costs including prescription medications, expenses for any procedures needed now or in the future.
  • Lost wages from missed work and loss of earning capacity (if the injury impacts your ability to earn in the future). 
  • Pain and suffering (chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and loss of enjoyment of life).
  • Rehabilitation, including physical therapy and occupational therapy.
  • Home or vehicle modifications (if your suffocation-related disability requires special provisions like wheelchair ramps or special equipment). 

  • Loss of consortium (if the victim survives but is too debilitated to provide companionship and support to their family members).
  • Punitive damages (if the defendant’s actions were particularly reckless or malicious).

If the suffocation led to death, the victim’s family might pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. They can recover damages for funeral and burial expenses, loss of the deceased’s expected income, loss of consortium (the deprivation of family relationships), and emotional distress caused by the loss of a loved one.

What Steps Should I Take If A Loved One Suffered Damage Due To Suffocation?

First things first, make sure they get seen by a doctor. If you can drive them to your nearest ER, do so, otherwise call 911. Even if they (or you) seem to have recovered, keep in mind that internal complications can be latent.

Then as soon as you can, start documenting everything, i.e., photos of the location where the suffocation occurred, any objects or substances involved, and the injuries suffered. Write down a detailed account of what happened, including dates and times. If there were any witnesses around who saw you or your loved one get strangled, get their names and contact information too. 

Make sure you collect all the medical records related to the treatment of the suffocation as well, such as hospital admission records, doctor's notes, diagnostic tests, treatment plans, and bills. These will help you prove the true extent of your injuries and the costs you have incurred. 

If the suffocation resulted in serious injury or death, or if the situation involves medical malpractice, product liability, or workplace safety violations, consider hiring a personal injury lawyer. They can be invaluable in representing your interests and handling the insurance negotiations. If it isn’t clear who is at fault, or if multiple parties might be liable, a lawyer can help investigate and determine liability. In many cases, just the knowledge that the plaintiff has an experienced attorney on their side is enough to force defendants to offer a fair settlement. 

Michael S. Lamonsoff, the founder and owner of the Law Offices of Michael S. Lamonsoff, PLLC

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At the Law Offices of Michael S. Lamonsoff, winning is what we do. With a collective background of over 150 years in the courtroom and going head-to-head with the largest insurance companies in the country, our personal injury attorneys in New York City know what it takes to make sure you get the compensation you are entitled to. Our reputation in New York is built on our never-back-down attitude. Complete this form or give us a call at 212-962-1020 to book a no-obligation appointment today.

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