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Man suffers severe carbon monoxide poisoning from car he bought in Fargo

WDAY First News Anchor Sarah Rudlang investigates the case of a man who nearly died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a car he bought in Fargo.

Carbon monoxide poisoning used car
A man who bought a used car in Fargo is lucky to be alive after the exhaust system in the vehicle failed, poisoning him as he sat in the car. (WDAY)
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FARGO - It’s not every day you clock in and save a co-workers life, but that’s what happened to Matt Weers while working at a West Fargo window company in January.

Weers had just joined the company's safety committee two days earlier. During his routine checks, he says he noticed his colleague, Brian Watts, had not signed off on his fork lift sheet. When he decided to look for Watts, he found him unresponsive, folded over in his car.

“Brian was definitely in trouble,” Weers said. “We could tell he was not coherent, and there was some blood in his nose. We immediately called 911.”

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After two ambulance rides and a flight to the Twin Cities, Watts woke up in the hospital later that day. The doctor explained his blood was saturated with carbon monoxide and he was minutes from dying.

“I didn’t really have time to react, to think out my situation. To turn the car off and open the door,” Watts said. “I just was like, ‘I’m dizzy,’ I shook my head and woke up in the hospital hours later.”

When he got back home, Watts took his 2002 Jetta Volkswagen to Premier Auto in Fargo.

Premier Auto Owner Joel Krieg’s diagnosis included a long list of issues, costing more to fix it than the value of the vehicle. He called it one of the worst cases he’s seen.

Krieg said, “Upon inspection, the turbocharger was left loose. There’s a chunk of exhaust missing, catalytic converter is missing. Where the pipe goes over the rear axle, that was all fudged together with a flex pipe.”

Watts says he bought the Jetta nearly three weeks earlier from Fam-Wise LLC in Fargo.

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Its owner, Helen Taplah, was asked about Watts' case and if they knew about the carbon monoxide issues.

“We buy the cars from auction as-is, and we sell them as-is,” Taplah said. “This vehicle had no issue. This gentleman came in and test drove this car. He decided to purchase this car.”

Taplah said she gave Watts a discount because the Jetta was missing side mirrors.

“Everything is clearly written out. We give you the option to go and take the car wherever you want to take it [for inspection].”

When asked about their inspection procedures, Taplah’s partner, JR Kess, explained they test drive the cars to make sure they run. They replace notable flaws such as windshields or lack of heat.

“Not everybody can afford [a] $10,000 car,” Kess said. “So she’s the medium person here trying to help her own people, to raise up and be able to get work.”

Fam-Wise LLC provided documentation that Watts had signed the as-is paperwork, which included a list of major defects that may occur in used vehicles. The fine print included leakage and catalytic converter as possible issues that could occur.

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“In North Dakota, we’re going to enforce what a contract states,” said Vogel Law Attorney Jordan Weir. “If that contract disclaims any warranties and it has those big bold letters, ‘as-is, where-is, used, no warranties,’ those terms are typically enforced.”

Weir recommends people check for any problems with any product that’s used, as-is or without warranty. Otherwise, he says you won’t be able to go to a manufacturer.

“Unless he [Watts] had evidence and was able to prove that the dealership or auction knew the catalytic converter was not there and the exhaust system would fail or it had significant defects with it and failed to disclose that to Brian, he would not be able to prove a case, because the contract would be binding,” Weir said.

North Dakota’s Lemon Laws (N.D. Cent. Code Chapter 51-07) protects consumers who buy new motor vehicles, but there is no specific law applicable to used car purchases.

The President and CEO of Automobile Dealers Association of North Dakota Matthew Larsgaard weighed in.

“I would highly recommend that consumers make their vehicle purchases through franchised new car dealers,” Larsgaard said. “One reason is that both manufacturers and federal/state law require our dealers to adhere to many consumer protection requirements. These requirements do not exist within the casual sale market.”

Ultimately, Watts was able to sell the Jetta to an area mechanic who fixes cars and gives them to people in need.

Watts said, “If there’s any lesson to be learned here, I believe it’s, any time you purchase any vehicle - check it out.”

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