Middle Man Seeks Dismissal In CO Lawsuit

OCEAN CITY – The middle-man defendant in the $30 million wrongful death lawsuit filed earlier this year by the family of two Pennsylvania tourists who perished from carbon monoxide poisoning in the Boardwalk hotel room in June 2006 this week filed a motion to dismiss the case against it, citing its involvement was to merely act as a conduit for the faulty water heater blamed in the incident from the manufacturer to the installer.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in February, 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 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.

However, R.E. Michel on Wednesday filed a motion for summary judgment essentially asking a federal judge to absolve the company from any responsibility in the case. R.E. Michel, a Glen Burnie-based company with an outlet in West Ocean City, alleges it only distributed the faulty Munchkin water heater and did not contribute to the tragedy.

R.E. Michel received the water heater from Heat Transfer Products and, in turn, sold it to All About Plumbing, who ultimately installed it at the Days Inn in Ocean City.

R.E. Michel is seeking a dismissal of the case against it because it was merely the distributor of a product in a sealed container and did not participate in designing, manufacturing, installing, modifying, repairing or maintaining the Munchkin boiler blamed in the incident. The company evoked Maryland’s “Sealed Container Statute” as the basis for a call to dismiss the case against it.

“R.E. Michel’s sole involvement was to act as Heat Transfer Products’ distributor,” the motion for summary judgment reads. “All About Plumbing, in turn, selected the Munchkin boiler and purchased it from R.E. Michel in the same sealed container the boiler was in when it was shipped from Heat Transfer Products. All About Plumbing then sold the Munchkin boiler to Bayshore. Finally, All About Plumbing installed the Munchkin boiler in the basement of Bayshore’s hotel.”

According to an affidavit submitted by R.E. Michel’s Ocean City branch sales manager, “R.E. Michel never opened the box or altered its contents,” and “there was nothing about the appearance of the box that led R.E. Michel to the conclusion that the unit was faulty.”

Two weeks ago, Bayshore Development filed its own formal answer to the case filed against it by the plaintiffs and filed countersuits against its co-defendants and a third party that allegedly designed and supplied a gas control valve blamed in part for the emission of deadly carbon monoxide levels into the hotel rooms where the tragedy occurred.