The children of Gail Amundsen and Murray Church have filed a lawsuit against Whatcom County and several companies alleging negligence resulting in the wrongful deaths of the couple due to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. The litigation has been ongoing since the lawsuit was filed January 3 in Whatcom County Superior Court.
Gail Amundsen, 61, and Murray Church, 67, were found dead in their home on Thanksgiving Day evening in 2021. The pair were discovered by family friends who were asked to check on them after their children had been unable to make contact with them for several days. Church was lying in bed while Amundsen was found in an adjoining bathroom. The apparent cause of death for the couple appeared to be due to the faulty installation of a radiant heating system.
The couple had moved into their newly constructed home in August 2021. It was heated by a high efficiency Triangle Tube Prestige Solo 110 condensing boiler which can use either natural gas or propane for its fuel source. It comes set up for natural gas and must be converted to use propane.
The lawsuit names Optimum Contracting, Point Roberts, the general contractor who built the home; Andgar Mechanical, Ferndale, which installed the furnace; Shoreline Electrical Services, Point Roberts, responsible for installing smoke and CO detectors; Triangle Tube/Phase III Co., New Jersey, which manufactured the furnace; Whatcom County, responsible for inspecting and issuing occupation permits; and John/Jane Does 1-99.
The children, Dawson Church and Hailey Church, are represented by attorneys David Brown and Matt Connor of Brett McCandlis, Brown & Connor. The law firm has offices in Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Everett, Seattle, Vancouver, and Spokane and specializes in cases involving personal injuries, vehicular accidents, wrongful death, medical malpractice and dog bites.
The lawsuit alleges that Optimum Contracting as general contractor was responsible for overseeing the work of subcontractors and “was negligent in failing to ensure safe installation of a heating system in the home … failing to ensure the installation of legally required CO detectors … failing in its oversight of the work of Andgar and Shoreline.”
Regarding Andgar, the lawsuit alleges that Andgar negligently breached its duty to safely install the heating system, including the failure to install the appropriate propane conversion kit as well as the negligent installation of the furnace’s vent system.
The plaintiffs further allege that Shoreline Electrical Services was negligent in failing to install CO detectors in the home.
Triangle Tube is alleged to be responsible for the deaths of the couple under the State of Washington’s Product Liability Act. Specifically, the lawsuit notes that the furnace lacked a vent installation detector or similar device that would have prevented the deaths of the couple.
Whatcom County is alleged to have “failed to exercise reasonable care in the performance of its duties of inspection and/or permitting” of the home.
Although discovery is still proceeding, all the defendants have responded initially to the complaints and have submitted requests that the case be heard by a jury. According to Brown and Connor, such a request is usual in wrongful death lawsuits, saying that judges are typically far more likely to approve higher damages than juries.
In each of the responses, the defendants denied responsibility. Indeed, some contended that Church and Amundsen’s damages were caused in whole or in part by the couple themselves, claiming that they had replaced a combination smoke and CO detector with single purpose smoke detectors. For example, the county claims the couple were experiencing periodic CO detector alerts during the summer of 2021, writing that “Shoreline Electrical responded and replaced batteries in an effort to correct the periodical alert of the CO detectors.” The single purpose smoke detector that was examined at the time of the deaths was hard-wired. Interestingly, the county wrote that all of its “actions in this matter were taken pursuant to a duty owed to the public and required by statutes that require the [county] to inspect buildings,” yet it “owed no duty to the Plaintiffs as individuals.” “The duty to ensure compliance rests with individual permit applicants, builders and developers,” it posited.
The lawsuit is still in the discovery stage which should wrap up in coming weeks. According to the lawyers representing the couple’s children, it currently takes 12 months or more to set trial dates, meaning the earliest the case would come to trial is sometime in 2024.
The plaintiffs are seeking damages to be proven at trial for economic damages such as loss of income, funeral expenses and property damage as well as non-economic damages for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of consortium and parent/child relationship.
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