Wrongful death lawsuit partially settled for $8 million


Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Robert E. Olsen approved a settlement on April 19 between the two children of Murray Church and Gail Amundsen and three out of five defendants accused of negligence in the couple’s deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Amundsen, 61, and Church, 67, were found dead in their home on Thanksgiving Day evening in 2021. The two were asphyxiated when an improperly installed boiler blew off a vent fitting and released carbon monoxide into their newly constructed home.

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.

Andgar Mechanical, Ferndale, general contractor Optimum Contracting and Shoreline Electrical Services, both of Point Roberts agreed to settle for $8 million in total. Andgar, who failed to convert the boiler to use propane fuel, will pay $6 million while Optimum and Shoreline will pay $1 million each.

Two other parties, Triangle Tube/Phase III Company, New Jersey and Whatcom County were not part of the settlement and the lawsuit against them will continue. Triangle Tube was the maker of the boiler while the county signed off on the occupancy permit of the couple’s newly constructed home even though contrary to state law, no carbon monoxide detectors had been installed.

The April 19 hearing was held to determine the reasonableness of the settlement agreement. Under RCW 4.22.060, a judge must review proposed settlements to determine that the amount to be paid is reasonable and reviews nine factors in making that determination. Among these factors are the damages visited upon the plaintiffs, in this case, the premature deaths of their parents. The agreed upon damages fell within the range of recent wrongful death awards. Another factor is the defendants’ ability to pay and the risk and expense of continued litigation.

According to plaintiffs’ attorney David Brown of Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, the agreed upon settlement was the maximum amount payable by the defendants’ insurance providers. Further litigation would likely not have resulted in a higher settlement.

Brown said pursuing the case against the three companies would have involved further substantial investigation and depositions. As it was, only Gary Orr of Shoreline Electric had been deposed prior to the settlement being agreed upon.

Brown said Orr maintained throughout that he had installed the proper CO detectors despite being presented with physical and technical evidence to the contrary.

Asked about reports that Optimum owner Eric Johnson and Orr had subsequently gone back to earlier projects to swap out smoke detector-only units for CO-capable units, Brown said while they had heard rumors, they didn’t pursue them as they would have had little evidentiary value at trial.

“We would not have been able to introduce it into evidence,” he said. He added that Orr’s testimony “did not appear to be credible” and the fact that the parties agreed to settle soon thereafter lent support to that assessment.

Asked what was next, Brown said the lawsuit against Triangle Tube and Whatcom County would continue.

In Washington state, contingency fees typically run from 33-40 percent of settlement amounts, not including expenses. Damage awards for wrongful deaths and personal injuries are not taxable in the U.S. or Canada.

(For a fuller understanding of the circumstances behind the tragic deaths of Church and Asmundsen, go to bit.ly/3xQqde4 and bit.ly/3w8xa9Q)


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