BOZEMAN - American Legion Post 14 is suing NorthWestern Energy after the post's building was destroyed in a natural-gas explosion in March that leveled half a block of downtown and killed a woman.
The post and Tom Jones, a post member and manager of the building and bar, filed the lawsuit Thursday in District Court in Gallatin County. Jones was in the bar at the time of the explosion and suffered back and ankle injuries and partial hearing loss. He also lost his job.
The lawsuit names NorthWestern and Leonard Leveaux, the company's senior manager of gas system integrity for Bozeman.
"Long before March 5, 2009, (the company and Leveaux) knew, based on their experience, threaded connectors pose particular hazards when used in service lines because they are susceptible to the initiation of cracks, failures and leaks," the lawsuit says. "Despite this knowledge, NorthWestern and Leveaux ... chose not to institute a program to replace the hazardous service lines in downtown Bozeman with safe lines, without threaded connectors."
The March explosion killed Montana Trails Gallery employee Tara Reistad Bowman, 36, and destroyed several businesses.
NorthWestern has said a separation on a 2-inch NorthWestern service line between the main gas line and the meter for the Montana Trails Gallery caused the blast.
In August, NorthWestern issued a news release saying that "there was no evidence from the condition of the service line or (threaded) fitting that suggested they were defective or had been assembled or installed properly."
"The portion of the fracture surface in the pipe threads ... was bright and shiny, indicating that it was a very recent fracture which occurred either shortly before or as a result of the explosion," the statement said.
Claudia Rapkoch, spokeswoman for Northwestern Energy, said she could not comment on the lawsuit because the company had not seen it.
"We will certainly take a look at the complaint and will respond accordingly," she said.