Seattle Firefighter Awarded $12.7 M for Workplace Accident
A Seattle firefighter who was severely injured in a fall down a pole shaft in 2003 received $12.7 million for the workplace accident from a jury this week in King County Superior Court. The fall caused ten broken ribs, numerous pelvic and other injuries, as well as spinal and brain injuries. The firefighter has been unable to work since the fall and now lives with his twin sister, who is currently his guardian.
The accident occurred when the firefighter awoke in the early morning to use the bathroom. He was not working at his normal duty station and mistook the pole alcove for the bathroom door, which are six feet apart on the same wall. The safety chain was not latched and the light above the fire pole had burned out. The firefighter fell 18 feet and was found by another firefighter. The state Department of Labor and Industries investigated and fined the Fire Department $800 for a serious violation.
Because the firefighter had only been with the fire department for four years before his accident, he was only eligible for minimal disability benefits under the state’s pension system for firefighters and police officers. An older pension system covered firefighters for catastrophic injuries in a way that the new system does not. The firefighter filed a lawsuit against the city in 2006.
The City Attorney’s office and the city’s insurer have been reviewing the jury’s verdict before deciding whether to appeal. The city is self-insured for $5 million and then the city’s insurance carrier must pay the remainder.
Seattle’s fire department has pulled together to make sure the firefighter and his sister, who is also a Seattle firefighter, are taken care of. They run errands, do yard work, and pick up medication, and have organized an annual citywide firefighter softball tournament to help raise money for expenses.
Since the accident, reflective tape has been placed around fire pole shafts in Seattle firehouses, protective glass doors with special handles that must be pushed in to open, and, in newer stations, the doors will not open unless the alarm is sounded.