Pa. Family Satisfied With CO Lawsuit Settlement

OCEAN CITY – Although the terms remain strictly confidential and may never be known, a settlement was reached late last week in the $30 million wrongful death lawsuit filed last February by the family of two Pennsylvania tourists who perished from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in the Boardwalk motel room in June 2006.

The original suit filed in U.S. District Court in February 2008 named as defendants the Bay Shore Development Corporation, owner of the Days Inn on 22nd Street where the tragic incident 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 in the Boardwalk hotel months before the incident.

Throughout the process, several counterclaims, cross-claims and third party claims were filed by the various defendants, each with the intent of deflecting at least some of the blame elsewhere and insulate themselves from liability. For example, one of the new parties added later was the Joyce Agency, a Virginia-based agency whose employees allegedly talked All About Plumbing employees through the installation process over the phone.

The 24-count federal suit was 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.

Last week, just days before the case was settled, Bay Shore Development filed a third party claim against the individual owner of All About Plumbing, who allegedly had a direct hand in the selection and installation of the Munchkin boiler. Just who was ultimately found liable in the complicated suit remains unknown. What is certain, however, is that the case was dismissed last Friday after the various parties reached a settlement.

“This court has been advised by the parties that the above action has been settled, including all counterclaims, cross-claims and third party claims,” the letter from senior U.S. District Judge William N. Nickerson reads. “Accordingly, it is ordered that this action is hereby dismissed and each party is to bear its own costs unless otherwise agreed.”

What is known is that the terms of the settlement, including an award of damages to the victims’ family, is strictly confidential and will not be made public. Bay Shore Development attorney Hugh Cropper IV said yesterday he was bound by the settlement agreement not to disclose the terms. Lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Dean F. Piermattei, of Rhoads and Sinon in Harrisburg, Pa. also said he could not disclose the terms of the settlement, but did say the Boughter family was pleased with its outcome.

“The terms are confidential, suffice it to say the settlement is satisfactory to the Boughter family,” he said. “While they are not through what they need to get through, they can now focus their attention strictly on the healing process. They are relieved that one part of this tragedy is over, from a litigation standpoint, and can get on with the healing aspect of this terrible incident.”

In the days following the tragedy, investigators announced the source of the carbon monoxide leak, which affected the occupants of at least three hotel rooms in the Days Inn and was allegedly directly responsible for the deaths of Patrick and Kelly Boughter, was an exhaust pipe from the hot water heaters in the basement of the facility. The report revealed the exhaust pipe leading from the hot water heater to a vent to the outside had become dislodged, which allowed the dangerous, odorless gas to seep into the first-floor hotel rooms.

Compounding the already difficult situation was a breakdown in communication at the scene between the three different paramedic units responding to numerous calls for assistance from the Days Inn on the morning of June 27, which ultimately caused emergency responders to miss the victims in Room 121 where the Boughters were staying and where two of them ultimately perished.

Meanwhile, the Boughters laid in room 121, unaware that paramedics were only a few doors down and oblivious to the gravity of their illnesses. Emergency services didn’t hear from the Boughters again until shortly after 1 p.m., hours after the original call, when they got a second call and found the deceased.

While the communication breakdown at the scene contributed to the ultimate demise of the two tourists, the dislodged exhaust pipe from the two hot water heaters in the basement was the direct cause. Officials did not know how or when the pipe became dislodged, but what is known is that the malfunctioning pipe pumped lethal levels of carbon monoxide into the first-floor rooms.