Extended members of a family of four found dead in their Genoa Township home in May 2019 have filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of a tankless water heater that authorities determined was the cause of the carbon-monoxide leak that caused their deaths.
The suit, filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court on behalf of representatives of Richard Gabriel Reitter III and Jennifer Reitter, names Navien Inc., the water heater’s manufacturer, and Carr Supply Co., the Columbus company that sold the water heater to Richard Reitter.
The suit, filed Aug. 24, seeks $25,000 in damages for each of the four family members, as well as a requirement that the model of tankless water heater sold to Reitter be allowed to be installed only by certified Navien plumbers and/or installers.
Richard Reitter and a friend installed the water heater in December 2018, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
All four members of the immediate Reitter family – Richard Reitter, 50; Jennifer Reitter, 49; and their two children, Richard Gabriel Reitter IV, 15, and Grace Reitter, 13 – were found dead inside their Lewis Center Road home in May 2019. The children both attended Olentangy Local Schools.
The lawsuit alleges that, when Richard Gabriel Reitter III ordered the water heater from Carr Supply Co., he specifically requested a unit for use with propane gas.
The suit says that Reitter thought the unit was propane-ready, and nothing on the Navien box or contents led him to believe otherwise.
In addition, the suit says, the conversion kit, necessary to convert the unit from natural gas to propane, was “buried ... within the unit itself (where consumers may not even look, nor were instructed to look),” according to a press release provided by Columbus-based Beausay & Nichols, the law firm representing the Reitters’ extended family.
The lawsuit also alleges that the exhaust pipe on the Navien unit was poorly designed, contributing to the carbon-monoxide leak.
“(Navien) has its own certification process that covers some of the subtle things mentioned in the complaint – things a do-it-yourselfer would not know,” said Jeff Beausay of Beausay & Nichols. “That’s exactly why (the unit) should not be sold to a do-it-yourselfer.”
Carr Supply representative Maury Williams, reached Sept. 10, declined to comment on pending litigation.
Navien representatives did not respond to a Sept. 9 email or Sept. 10 call for comment.
Sara Nichols of Beausay & Nichols said Navien “has already taken steps to improve the product,” citing improved instructions and the addition of a sensor on the unit, calling the updates “a tacit acknowledgment that this is a problem.”
Trial assignment is set Aug. 29, 2022, according to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.