The city of Seattle must pay a former firefighter $12.75 million for debilitating injuries suffered when he fell 15 feet through a fire-station pole hole, a King County Superior Court jury decided on Thursday.
Mark Jones, 45, was on temporary assignment at Station 33, the city’s southernmost fire station, when he was injured trying to get to the restroom in the early hours of Dec. 23, 2003, according to court papers.
He’d awakened in the dark fire-station bunk room and entered the wrong door, falling 15 feet through an unguarded fire-pole hole to the concrete floor below. The door to the pole was just a few feet away from a similar door to the restroom, Jones said in court papers.
The jury’s decision followed a six-week trial in King County Superior Court Judge Susan Craighead’s courtroom in the King County Courthouse in Seattle.
One of Jones’ attorneys, Dick Kilpatrick, of Bellevue, said in a telephone interview there had been another fall at the same pole in the same station in the middle of the night in 1976.
Jones said in court papers that his injuries were the result of negligence on the part of the city and the Fire Department for failing to install a proper guard at or around the fire pole or the door that opened to it.
“I was knocked unconscious when I fell and suffered a head injury,” he said in court papers. “When I fell, I broke nine ribs on my right side, and fractured my pelvis in multiple places.” Jones said he suffered fractures to five lower-back vertebrae and had lung, bladder and liver injuries.
Because of his injuries, Jones has not been able to return to work, Kilpatrick said. He tried working part time in office clerical jobs with the Fire Department, but even those were too difficult, Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick said Jones still suffers breathing difficulties, the result of complications of his lung injury, along with chronic pain, and he has not recovered from the head injury.
Jones will never be able to return to work of any kind, Kilpatrick said.
“We’re satisfied with what the jury did,” Kilpatrick said.
Since Jones was injured, the Fire Department has installed chest-high latching mechanisms on the doors to fire poles so firefighters have a “level of awareness” about opening the doors, department spokeswoman Helen Fitzpatrick said today.
One new station completed in January 2008 was granted a variance from a state regulation that prohibits fire poles in new stations, Fitzpatrick said. At that location, Fire Station 10 in downtown Seattle, the latch automatically unlocks when the fire bell rings, she said.
Firefighters have the option of using poles or stairs, Fitzpatrick said. Padding is in place at the foot of the poles, she said.
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