Latest CO Suit Charting Similar Course

OCEAN CITY – A flurry of legal wranglings surfaced this week in the multi-million dollar federal civil suit filed early last month by five plaintiffs inflicted with carbon monoxide poisoning in hotel rooms adjacent to a room where two Pennsylvania residents died of CO poisoning in July 2006, as several defendants filed different motions attempting to deflect blame from themselves and onto their co-defendants.

On April 2, a total of 10 new plaintiffs filed suit in U.S. District Court against the same line-up of defendants who had six days earlier settled a federal civil suit with the family of two Pennsylvania tourists who perished from carbon monoxide poisoning at the Days Inn Oceanfront on the Boardwalk at 22nd Street in July 26. Five of the plaintiffs were in two of the rooms on the hotel’s first floor and suffered directly from carbon monoxide poisoning and were later hospitalized. The other five plaintiffs are either husbands or parents, or both, of the five victims and were indirectly affected by the incident.

The original 24-count federal suit was seeking $30 million from the various defendants including the Bay Shore Development Corporation, owner of the motel 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. The suit filed by the new plaintiffs last month includes the same list of defendants, as well as a handful of the parent companies for the hotel.

The terms of the settlement between the defendants and the family of the two deceased victims in the original suit have not been made public. The collective damages sought in the 35-count suit filed by the victims in adjacent rooms made ill by CO poisoning could total over $100 million.

Following a pattern similar to that of the original suit, several of the defendants this week filed various motions to dismiss the secondary suit filed by the victims made ill in the adjacent rooms, and/or filed cross claims against their co-defendants in an effort to insulate themselves from paying substantial damages to the victims should the case go against them. For example, on Monday, All About Plumbing filed a formal answer to the complaint seeking a motion to dismiss the component of the case against the local company.

On Tuesday, Heat Transfer Products and R.E. Michel filed similar motions. Then on Wednesday, All About Plumbing and its owner, Eric Martinenza, filed cross claims against Heat Transfer Products and R.E. Michel. Sandwiched in between was a motion filed by Black Diamond Builders, which has loosely been associated with the case because it did some work around the hotel at the time of the incident, seeking to exclude it from the proceedings.

Each of the motions filed this week attempt to deflect blame away from the filers and onto the other defendants. For example, All About Plumbing’s formal answer claims its involvement was secondary to other parties named as defendants.

“If indeed the plaintiffs were injured and damaged as alleged in the complaint, their injuries and damages were caused by the intervening and superseding acts of third parties of which All About Plumbing had no notice and was otherwise not involved,” the company’s answer reads.

However, Annapolis attorney Edwin Staples, who represents both Heat Transfer Products, the manufacturer of the boiler, and R.E. Michel, the distributor, asserted in his own formal answers on behalf of his clients any problems with the Munchkin water heater were caused after the product was delivered and installed, and suggested those handling it after delivery did not follow the installation instructions.

“Warnings and instructions supplied with the boiler were disregarded by others in its use, and if those warnings and instructions had been followed, carbon monoxide could not have possibly injured anyone,” the answer reads. “If the boiler caused or contributed to any of the injuries suffered by any plaintiff, it could only have been so because of the mishandling or alteration of the boiler after its delivery to All About Plumbing.”

In its cross claims against Heat Transfer Products and R.E. Michel filed on Wednesday, All About Plumbing continued to deny any liability, but asserted if the court were to rule in favor of the plaintiffs, the liability should be borne by the manufacturer and the distributor.

“While it vigorously denies All About Plumbing was in any way negligent, or that it breached any warranty, or that its actions in any way caused and/or contributed to the plaintiffs’ alleged injuries, in the event that the plaintiffs should prevail in any of their claims, All About Plumbing states that its liability, if any, would be passive and secondary and that the sole and proximate cause of all the plaintiffs’ losses and damages would be the actions and/or inactions of Heat Transfer Products,” the cross complaint reads.