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Equipment maker not responsible for 2009 carbon monoxide deaths in Utah

Published December 24, 2012 5:50 pm
Coleman is off the hook despite absence of carbon monoxide warning, jurors say.
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A federal jury found that a camping equipment manufacturer was not responsible for the deaths of two people in 2009 who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning while using a propane heater in a tent while camping in Utah.

Steven Dowdy, 28, and Darian Thomlinson, 10, both of Colorado, died while attending a paintball event near Monte Cristo in northern Utah. They were with a group camping near Ant Flat Road in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and were found dead in their tent around 8 a.m. on June 21, 2009. Investigators said carbon monoxide from a propane radiant heater and a propane lantern used in the tent overnight caused the deaths.

Their families filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in March 2011 against the Coleman Company, which made the heater and lantern. It alleged the company's products were defective because they produced large quantities of carbon monoxide and it knew but failed to warn that they should not be used in enclosed areas like tents, campers and cabins.

Unlike competitors' products, the Coleman heater lacked a built-in safety shut-off device in the event emissions reached toxic levels, the complaint said. The lawsuit also claimed that Coleman had failed to provide warnings or recall the devices despite the defects.

After an eight-day trial this month, the jury found in favor of the company after deliberating for more than seven hours. It said the heater was not defectively designed or unreasonably dangerous, though the company's warning about its use was inadequate and it was negligent in not providing consumers with a post-sale warning about its use in closed spaces.

Despite that, the jury found the inadequate warning and failure of the company to provide additional use instructions was not to blame for the two campers' deaths.

brooke@sltrib.com

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