Manufacturer Claims No Liability In CO Deaths

OCEAN CITY – Heat Transfer Products, Inc., one of four defendants named in the $30 million lawsuit filed two weeks ago by the family of two Pennsylvania tourists who perished from carbon monoxide poisoning in their Boardwalk hotel room in June 2006, this week filed a formal answer to the complaint outlining the reasons the company should not be held liable in the accidental deaths.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court last Friday, names as defendants the Bay Shore Development Corp., the owner of the Days Inn Hotel on 22nd Street in Ocean City where the tragedy occurred; Heat Transfer Products, Inc., the manufacturer of the faulty water heater deemed as the source of the CO leak; R.E. Michel Co. Inc., the Glen Burnie-based company that distributed the water heater; and All About Plumbing, the local company that purchased and installed the water heater at the Boardwalk hotel.

The 24-count federal suit is seeking a combined $30 million from the defendants, citing negligence, breach of warranty and strict liability in the deaths of Patrick J. Boughter and his daughter Kelly M. Boughter, both of Lebanon, Pa., who died of exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning while staying at the Days Inn Hotel in Ocean City on June 27, 2006. The suit is also seeking personal injury damages for the surviving members of the family, Yvonne and Morgan Boughter, who were also in the hotel room and suffered from exposure to CO.

According to the suit filed Feb. 15, the Munchkin 199 water heater, manufactured by Heat Transfer Products Inc., of Massachusetts, sold by R.E. Michel and installed at the Days Inn Hotel by All About Plumbing was directly responsible for the deaths of Patrick and Kelly Boughter and the injuries or illnesses of Yvonne and Morgan Boughter. The suit claims the death of the victims “was a direct and proximate result of the design, manufacture, distribution, supply, sale and/or defective installation of the Munchkin water heater which created an unreasonably dangerous condition that exposed each of the members of the Boughter family, including Patrick J. Boughter, to an unreasonable risk of injury, harm and death for which each of the defendants is strictly liable.”

However, the formal answer filed on Monday by attorney Steven T. Cain on behalf of Heat Transfer Products Inc. (HTP) attempts to absolve the company of any liability in the case because the company alleges there was no flaw in the design or manufacture of the water heater.

“The unit was not in a defective condition at the time it left HTP’s possession and control in or around February of 2005,” and answer to the plaintiff’s complaint reads. “The unit was not unreasonably dangerous for its intended or anticipated purpose, nor did any defect in the unit cause any of the plaintiff’s alleged injuries or damages.”

Heat Transfer Products’ formal answer to the suit suggests anything that contributed to the deaths of the two victims occurred after the Munchkin water heater left its possession.

“If the unit produced carbon monoxide which caused injury to anyone, those events only occurred due to the misuse of an otherwise safe product by independent third persons over whom HTP had no control,” the formal answer reads. “If the unit caused or contributed to any of the injuries or damages suffered by any plaintiff, it could only have been so because of the mishandling or alteration of the unit after its delivery from HTP.”

HTP’s formal answer suggests if the water heater was installed and used correctly, the tragedy could have been avoided.

“Warnings and instructions supplied with the unit were disregarded by others in its use, and if those warnings and instructions had been followed, carbon monoxide could not have possibly escaped from the unit to injure anyone,” the answer reads.