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City, contractors sued over death at Helena construction site

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Rodney St. road reconstruction project

Construction crews work on the Rodney Street reconstruction project in the summer of 2021. 

The estate and the wife of a medical doctor who was struck and killed by a construction truck in Helena last year is suing the city and two of the contractors involved in the Rodney Street construction. 

The lawsuit filed July 12 in District Court in Helena alleges negligence by the city of Helena, Helena Sand and Gravel, White Resources Group and other unknown parties referred to as "John Does 1-10."

According to the lawsuit, Dr. Christopher Muenzen, 66, was walking from his rental home toward open businesses on Rodney Street between Fifth and Sixth streets on Sept. 21, 2021, when he was struck and killed by a construction vehicle. 

The Rodney Street construction was being completed in phases by Helena Sand and Gravel, which had contracted with the city. The lawsuit says Helena Sand and Gravel had agreed to install pedestrian control measures, but proper signage and fencing were not installed.

The sidewalks had been removed, leaving no designated area for pedestrians to access the open businesses, the plaintiffs' attorneys from Moyers Law, P.C. in Billings and Kohn Law, P.A. in Minneapolis wrote in an emailed statement Sept. 12.

The lawsuit says Wright Resources Group was a subcontractor for Helena Sand and Gravel. It says the subcontractor agreed to the following regulations from the Department of Transportation for all of its vehicles and drivable equipment: that they have working horns; if they have an obstructed rear view, they must have working reverse signal alarms; all alarms would be in working condition and loud enough to hear above the surrounding noise level; and all vehicles with an obstructed rear view would have an “observer” to guide and monitor while backing up.

The lawsuit says a vehicle owned by Wright Resources Group was parked on Rodney Street, and an employee of the company entered the vehicle and started to drive it forward. It says the driver suddenly switched the vehicle into reverse and ran over Muenzen, who “had no reason to expect that the work truck would suddenly reverse course and head towards him." After being told that he ran over someone, the driver pulled forward and ran over him again, the lawsuit says. 

The driver did not ensure that no one was behind him before reversing, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys. The vehicle had an obstructed rear view and wasn’t equipped with an audible back up alarm, they said. 

Muenzen lived an “appreciable amount of time” after the incident but later died from serious injuries from the collision, the lawsuit says. A statement from the plaintiffs' attorneys described Muenzen’s death as “tragic and preventable.”

Muenzen is survived by his wife and four adult children. The lawsuit is seeking damages for his and his family's pain and suffering, for his family's loss of companionship and support, for his future earnings, for his funeral and burial costs, and for all other damages available under Montana law. 

To date, none of the defendants have filed an answer, according to the plaintiffs' attorneys.

The city of Helena said it does not comment on ongoing litigation. Helena Sand and Gravel and White Resources Group did not respond to requests for comment for this article. 

“Since this accident, the City of Helena and HSG ... continued the roadway construction without changing their safety protocols or pedestrian safety plan,” the plaintiffs' attorneys stated. “The Muenzen family hopes a Montana jury will hold these entities accountable for their negligence and to effectuate positive changes in the City’s and company’s compliance with well-established safety protocols for pedestrian safety.”

According to the lawsuit, Muenzen had recently sold his medical practice in New Jersey. He and his wife had planned on him working as a locum tenens physician at various veteran affairs hospitals around the country in locations they were interested in visiting or living. This is what brought them to Helena, where Muenzen was working as an Internal Medicine physician at VA Medical Center at Fort Harrison.

Megan Michelotti can be reached at megan.michelotti@helenair.com.

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