Four Deaths, but|Just One ‘Occurrence’


     RENO, Nev. (CN) – An insurer need pay a Nevada motel-casino only $1 million for the carbon monoxide deaths of four guests because the deaths were a single occurrence, a federal judge ruled.
     Four guests of the Casino West, in Yerington, were found dead in their motel room on April 16, 2006. They died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
     Casino West was found responsible. An investigation found that the carbon monoxide leak was caused by the pool heater “not burning properly, a roof vent was not the proper height and the cap on the vent had been removed, the vents in the door to the pool equipment room had been covered with cardboard and sealed with duct tape, and the control panel had been altered such that there was no reasonable way to shut the heating unit off without disconnecting power,” U.S. District Judge Robert Jones wrote in his March 27 order.
     Plaintiff Century Surety Company claimed Casino West’s policy covered up to $1 million for every “occurrence” of “bodily injury” up to a total of $2 million. When that limit was reached, Casino West’s excess policy through Admiral would cover another $5 million, Jones wrote.
     Century paid the first $1 million but refused to pay any more. Casino West and Admiral claimed that because there were multiple issues in the pool equipment room, there was more than one “occurrence.”
     Jones ruled that “there were multiple causes that together formed the fatal conditions responsible for the victims’ deaths.” However, the judge wrote, “the proximity in time and space of the events in this case leads to the conclusion that they comprise a single occurrence.”
     Therefore, Century is not responsible for any additional coverage.
     Jones compared this case to the ruling in Bish v. Guaranty Nat’l Ins. Co., 848 P.2d 1057, 1058 (Nev. 1993), in which a man accidentally backed his car over a little girl, then hearing her screams, put the car in drive and drove over her again.
     The ruling stated that “injuries arising from multiple ’causes’ are nonetheless attributable to a single ‘occurrence’ when those causes ‘act[] concurrently with and
     [are] directly attributable to’ a single first cause. The court also observed that ‘[t]he proximity in both time and space of the events at issue, together with their direct interdependence, leads … to the conclusion that there was a single accident.” (Brackets as in Jones’s order.)