SEATTLE, WASHINGTON – A King County Superior Court judge refused Monday to vacate a nearly $13 million award to a Seattle firefighter who was injured at a fire station in 2003.
The city of Seattle appealed the award after an investigator it hired captured Mark Jones on surveillance video dancing, chopping wood, playing horseshoes and bocce ball this past spring.
But in Monday’s ruling, Judge Susan Craighead said the city had ample time and means to have pursued evidence of Jones’ condition since the case was brought forward in 2006, but failed to do so.
“The city devoted little effort to investigating this case until its third set of lawyers was retained in early 2009,” Craighead wrote in her ruling. She wrote that the city never asked to have Jones examined independently by any medical doctors to verify any of his physical complaints, instead relying only on evaluations from Labor and Industries physicians.
“The city cannot now take a second bite of the apple because it failed to make the most of the first,” Craighead said.
The city had also claimed the video proved Jones was fraudulently portraying the effects of his injuries to the jury, but Craighead said proving fraud requires a very high level of proof, and the video could not conclusively prove Jones was not suffering from mental effects that were a large part of the documented injuries relevant to his claim.
In 2009, a jury agreed Jones was permanently disabled at a fire station when he fell 15 feet through an opening near the fire pole in the middle of the night. He was awarded nearly $12.8 million, which included almost $2.5 million for lifetime medical care and assistance. Jones claimed he was permanently disabled and in constant pain.
“That’s what my day consists of. It’s just such a struggle from the point when I get up, I’m trying to get going through it,” Jones said during testimony.
But Jones’ attorney, Dick Kilpatrick, claims it has always been accepted that his client could perform daily tasks; it was his brain injury that called for such a large award, he said.
“We never claimed at trial, like the defense is trying to show, that he somehow is unable to do most things of daily life. The jury was told he was able to do most things of daily life,” Kilpatrick said after the city’s appeal was filed. “There was bleeding in two parts of his brain that were documented at Harborview (Medical Center). So that’s what the case was primarily about. It wasn’t about a person who’s practically an invalid, or whatever.”
The attorneys representing the city said Monday they had no comment on the substance of the court’s decision.
“We stand by the materials we filed on behalf of the City in superior court. We expect this ruling will become part of the City’s appeal from the judgment, which is already pending in the court of appeals.”