St. Clair County has agreed to pay $150,000 to the mother of a 23-year-old woman who died in a 2010 single-car crash with a blood-alcohol level of 0.1 percent.
The county agreed to pay $150,000 to Nancy Mueller of Troy, who sued the county, claiming a guardrail along Scott-Troy Road was not properly in place just south of Ogle Creek. The suit alleged the faulty guardrail caused the death of Mueller’s daughter, Jessica Muniz, in the crash.
David Kupets, attorney for Mueller, the Troy resident, said the lawsuit had asked for a payout of more than $1 million.
However, after mediation, the $150,000 settlement was reached.
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“I am satisfied for my client we were able to resolve this on terms that were acceptable to her rather than having to go through the pain of litigating it,” Kupets said.
Kupets said the family also will be able to keep a memorial for Muniz at the site of the crash.
Muniz went missing on May 3, 2010, and was found the following day.
About 16 to 18 hours after the crash, family members used GPS information from Muniz’s cellular phone to find her body inside her Mazda, which went off the road and into a ditch along Scott-Troy Road north of Lebanon and O’Fallon.
In this case, you had a guardrail that under federal regulations and state codes is constructed to prevent errant vehicles from leaving the roadway and encountering a hazard the guardrail is designed to protect against.
David Kupets, attorney for Nancy Mueller, administrator of Jessica Muniz’s estate
Muniz worked at Barnes-Jewish Hospital as a nursing technician during the day, and also at the The Nite Deposit tavern in Mascoutah at night.
Kupets said Muniz had a blood-alcohol level of 0.1 percent when she was found. In Illinois, the threshold for a drunk-driving citation is 0.08 percent.
The lawsuit questioned whether a guardrail that was in place was damaged before the crash, or whether it was properly constructed, and whether it would have made a difference in the crash.
The guardrail was 50 to 60 feet long prior to the crash, but 36 feet of it was damaged and laying on the ground like a piece of ribbon, Kupets said.
He said there was photographic evidence that showed the guardrail was damaged before Muniz’s crash.
Kupets said there was no accident report for the location prior to Muniz’s crash.
Kupets added the guardrail itself should have been an additional 200 feet long.
Frank Bergman, director of human resources for the county, said the lawsuit had been in mediation for several years.
The county believed the road was designed properly, Bergman said.
The road was constructed in 1985, Bergman said, and records of the design and required standards were not readily available, Bergman said.
There’s nothing but sadness in this story.
Frank Bergman, St. Clair County, director of Human Resources
“They claimed if the road had been designed properly, the accident may not have resulted in her death, and the county’s position was the road was designed properly,” Bergman said.
Kupets said it is unclear why Muniz went off the road, which has a slight curve, saying it could have been to avoid an animal, or to avoid another vehicle, or she could have been distracted, or possibly asleep at the wheel.
“The guardrail doesn’t know why the vehicle left the roadway,” Kupets said. “It’s not really relevant to the decision of this case.”
“In this case, you had a guardrail that under federal regulations and state codes is constructed to prevent errant vehicles from leaving the roadway, and encountering a hazard the guardrail is designed to protect against,” Kupets added.
There were no skid marks where the 2003 Mazda 6 that Muniz was driving left the road. The vehicle traveled through some brush, over a creek and struck an embankment on the opposite side.
Bergman said the county’s liability insurance will help pay for the settlement, but how much insurance will cover has yet to be determined.
“It’s just a bad situation … just horrible,” Bergman said. “There’s no good ending to that one.”
“There’s nothing but sadness in this story,” Bergman said.