Companies sued over carbon-monoxide deaths of Delaware County family - News - The Columbus Dispatch

Dan Volkema, a Columbus lawyer with Volkema Thomas and one of the representatives of the Reitters’ estate, said the family hopes to make Navien aware of the hazards of the units and to better safeguard who is selling and buying the products.

The estate of a Delaware County family who died of carbon-monoxide poisoning last year is suing the manufacturer and dealer of a tankless water heater linked to their deaths.

Richard Gabriel Reitter III, 50; his wife, Jennifer, 49; and their children, Richard Gabriel IV, 15, and Grace, 13, were found dead in their Genoa Township home May 2, 2019.

Investigators traced the source of the carbon monoxide to a Navien Inc. NPE-240A tankless water heater sold to Mr. Reitter by Carr Supply Co. on the Near East Side of Columbus in December 2018.

Dan Volkema, a Columbus lawyer with Volkema Thomas, and one of the representatives of the Reitters’ estate, said the family hopes to make Navien aware of the hazards of the units and to better safeguard who is selling and buying the products.

The lawsuit, filed in late August in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, says that Navien water heaters should be sold and installed only by Navien-certified plumbers or installers. However, anyone can buy and install the units.

Mr. Reitter was neither Navien-certified, nor a licensed plumber or HVAC technician. The Reitters’ heirs contend that it’s not safe to allow non-certified customers to install one of the units, despite the company’s box stating “One Person Installation.”

The lawsuit also says that when Mr. Reitter ordered the water heater from Carr Supply, he requested a unit to be used with propane gas. According to the lawsuit, Reitter thought the unit was propane-ready, with nothing on the Navien box or contents stating otherwise.

Among other things, the lawsuit also states that Navien placed the gas conversion kit and guide within the unit itself – where a consumer might not even look, nor be instructed to look. The lawsuit further states that the exhaust pipe was poorly designed, resulting in excessive amounts of carbon monoxide to flow through the Genoa Township home and kill the four family members and their three dogs.

Carr Supply spokesman Maury Williams said the company will not speak about the lawsuit, as it’s pending litigation at this time.

Officials with Navien, based in Irvine, California, did not respond to requests for comment.

“The product and its installation is complicated,” said Columbus lawyer Jacob Beausay, who also represents the Reitter family.

“The design is such, unless you’ve done it many times or have been instructed many times, you wouldn’t be able to do it. I think the product itself is flawed.”

The lawsuit alleges that the company is aware of the problem that caused the deaths because of similar incidents.

Just days after the deaths of the Reitter family, a Marion couple narrowly survived a similar fate. First-responders came to the couple’s aid and traced the high levels of carbon monoxide to a Navien tankless water heater, which also was purchased from Carr Supply.

And in February 2019, in Suffolk County, New York, 55-year-old Stephen Yancofski died due to carbon-monoxide poisoning from a detached exhaust pipe from a Navien NPE-240A tankless water heater. A conversion issue was also noted in the case. Yancofski’s wife, Kyriaki Bouziotas, then 59, was also exposed to the carbon monoxide, and narrowly survived.

Investigators noted in the Marion County incident that the water heater’s exhaust pipe “was dislodged in what seems to be the exact location and manner” as the unit in the Reitter incident, according to the release.

Three Navien products were at the center of two prior recalls concerning risks of carbon-monoxide poisoning. Between 2011 and 2012, the company recalled a series of tankless water heaters and boilers because of easily detachable vent collars and a kit to convert the units from natural gas to propane that could cause the product to produce excessive amounts of carbon monoxide.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission said Navien has not recalled the water heater model involved in the Reitter case.

Since the filling of the lawsuit, Beausay said the family is awaiting a response from the two companies. Though there have been-negotiations and discussions, nothing has been resolved.

edhopkins@gannett.com

@Earl_Hopkins1

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