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Dec 9, 2010 8:44 PM by Dan Boyce

Most lawsuits against NorthWestern Energy for downtown Bozeman explosion settled

BOZEMAN-It's been over a year and a half since a natural gas explosion in downtown Bozeman killed a woman and destroyed half a city block. Now, most of the major lawsuits filed against Northwestern Energy have been settled.

Attorney Mike Cok represents several of the businesses damaged by the March 5th, 2009 explosion, as well as the husband of 36 year old Tara Reistad Bowman who was killed in the blast. Cok says most of the settlements with his clients were negotiated during the early to mid part of November, and that's about all he could tell us.

Cok has been involved with the explosion since the first moments. His law offices in the old Carnegie library sit just across the street from the site. As he sat in his office for an interview, he said the windows had been blown out.

He's gone on to represent most of the more than a dozen major lawsuits against NorthWestern--lawsuits claiming negligence for the gas leak that led to the blast.

All but one of his clients has now settled with the utility, including:

Christopher Bowman
Ann Bates
Tolsted Architects
American Legion
Boodles
Pickle Barrel
Rocky Mountain Toy Co.
Starky's

But we don't have any other details--settlement amounts, whether NorthWestern has admitted any guilt for the tragedy--nothing. Part of each settlement includes a confidentiality agreement.

"We've agreed we will not talk about the terms of settlement and that means I will not talk about or describe my feelings about it," Cok said.

There are also no details on his only unsettled client, LillyLu owner Sheryl Sanders.

"We do not discuss pending cases," Cok said. "We are trying to resolve everything."

NorthWestern Energy spokesperson Claudia Rapkoch said nearly the same thing over the phone, and had no other comment.

In the past, the company has called the blast an "act of God" and said they are not legally responsible.

For the major lawsuits Cok is not representing--a settlement has been reached with the Montana Trails Art Gallery where the explosion originated. Still unsettled are lawsuits with the Rocky Mountain Rug Gallery and the Rockin' R Bar.

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