BOZEMAN, Mont. — A wastewater worker who took a 30-foot fall into raw sewage on Bozeman property is suing, claiming the city failed to provide a safe place to work.
In August 2017, Edward Muniz, an employee with Advanced Waste Water Specialist, was suspended over the Baxter Meadows lift station disconnecting a pump inside when his harness detached from the crane holding him. The city had hired the company to work on the station.
Muniz filed a lawsuit against Bozeman in Gallatin County District Court on Dec. 14. The lawsuit claims Bozeman had control over the inherently dangerous job site and the responsibility to keep the workers safe. It calls for a jury trial and claims the city should pay for the damages tied to the fall and any other costs allowed by law.
As of Tuesday, the city hadn’t been served with the lawsuit. A city spokesperson said there’s nothing to respond to unless that happens.
Muniz’s lawyers say though the accident happened more than a year ago, Muniz is still suffering from the fall.
“Extensive training and safety precautions are required to perform work in confined spaces such as the lift station in which Mr. Muniz was injured,” according to court documents.
After Muniz dropped into the raw sewage, his coworkers ran to turn on the pumps to make sure he didn’t drown in the sewage, according to the lawsuit. Another coworker lowered the crane to the bottom of the lift station so Muniz could reattach his harness and get back to safety.
Among other things, Muniz had injuries to his head, back, right knee and right wrist. A large cut on the back of his head needed stitches and became septic from the exposure to the sewage.
Bozeman attorney Justin Staples, of Beck, Amsden & Staples, said Muniz has ongoing pain from a broken shoulder blade and recurring headaches from the fall.
“He’s sure hoping for a full recovery, but it looks like, unfortunately, he may be dealing with some of the residual effects of this for a long time if not forever,” Staples said Tuesday.
Under the state workers’ compensation system, workers have rights when an accident on the job leads to lost time at work. Staples said state law also means people can’t sue their employers for additional damages.
Staples said Muniz filed a claim with the city for the damages and waited the required six months before filing his lawsuit. He said part of the lawsuit’s development will be figuring out why Muniz’s harness disconnected from the crane.
“I hope that we can get to a fair result for everyone,” Staples said. “If there are improvements that need to be made on city projects like this for safety, I hope we can help out with that.”