It’s been more than four years since an 18-year-old Marine died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a Meridian apartment complex — and Idaho courts are still sorting out who, if anyone, is legally liable for the young man’s death.
McQuen C. Forbush died on the floor of a unit at Sagecrest Apartments on Nov. 10, 2012. His girlfriend — Breanna Halowell, also 18 — was hospitalized but survived.
The culprit: A clogged vent on a water heater sent excess carbon monoxide into the apartment. Reports of carbon monoxide issues in some units at Sagecrest dated back to spring 2011.
The Forbush family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2013 against a number of people and organizations, including the property owners association (similar to a homeowners association in a subdivision) and its then-president John Kalsbeek. All were accused of failing to provide a safe living environment and to adequately warn of danger.
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On Wednesday, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled the Sagecrest Multi Family Property Owners Association and Kalsbeek, now its vice president, may be liable in certain ways for the death. That partly reversed a 4th District Court ruling in favor of the property owners association.
In the 27-page ruling, the court said the association was exempt from some liability because it neither owned nor possessed the specific property where Forbush died. But a jury could hear issues surrounding whether the complex’s property management company relied on the association to guide preventative maintenance, and for distribution of a 2011 plumber’s letter warning about carbon monoxide issues, the justices ruled.
“The record is replete with factual disputes showing that a jury could reasonably find that [First Rate Property Management] relied on the POA,” Chief Justice Roger Burdick wrote.
In a dissent, Justice Robyn Brody argued the court misapplied past case law and the association could also be liable in the same way as an owner for the ways it directed carbon monoxide testing and handled the faulty water heaters.
Neither McQuen nor his girlfriend lived at Sagecrest when they died; they were staying the night at a friend’s place. McQuen was on leave from infantry training at Camp Pendleton in San Diego and was visiting family and friends in the Boise area.
The case now returns to district court in Ada County.
The Forbush family’s attorney did not return a call from the Statesman this week seeking comment on the case. Travis Forbush, McQuen’s father, declined to comment. A call to the Sagecrest Multi Family Property Owners Association went unreturned.