Secret video disputes disability of ex-Seattle firefighter
The city of Seattle is seeking to overturn a $12.75 million judgment awarded to a former firefighter, who claimed he was permanently disabled by a on-duty fall, after investigators secretly shot video of the man chopping wood, playing horseshoes and bocce ball, and even breaking into a victory dance.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The city of Seattle is seeking to overturn a $12.8 million judgment awarded to a former firefighter, who claimed he was permanently disabled by an on-duty fall, after investigators secretly shot video of the man chopping wood, playing horseshoes and bocce ball, and even breaking into a victory dance.
A King County jury last October found that former Seattle firefighter Mark Jones was left permanently disabled after he fell 15 feet through a fire-station pole hole nearly three years earlier. Along with several fractures, Jones said he suffered from chronic pain and had breathing difficulties.
In their motion to vacate the judgment, which includes several videos, lawyers for the city call Jones' behavior at his Superior Court trial a "deception." They say the video even calls into question the "credibility and reliability" of what happened to Jones in the fall, according to the motion.
The videos includes portions of Jones' sworn deposition before the trial in which he describes the lingering pain as a result of the fall.
Jones, 46, of Bothell, could not be reached Thursday for comment.
But his lawyer, Dick Kilpatrick, said in a prepared statement that the videos are an attempt by defense lawyers to "generate false sympathy for the city and continue to unfairly trash one of its own firefighters."
Kilpatrick, who said he has seen the videos, says Jones has not filed an official response to the city's motion. The city says the deadline for the response is next Friday.
Kilpatrick said that "stress makes Mark's pain and functioning worse."
"The City waited months for the least stressful time and only turned the camera on to get what it wanted," Kilpatrick said in the statement.
Jones was on temporary assignment at Station 33, 9645 Renton Ave. S., on Dec. 23, 2003, when he awoke in the dark bunk room and walked through the wrong door while looking for the restroom. He fell through an unguarded fire-pole hole to the concrete floor below, Jones said in court papers.
Jones was knocked unconscious and, according to court paperwork, suffered a head injury, broke nine ribs, fractured several vertebrae and his pelvis, as well as suffered lung, bladder and liver injuries.
Jones said his injuries resulted from 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 led to it.
Jones tried to keep working doing light duties but retired in September 2009 after more than 10 years as a Seattle firefighter, a department spokeswoman said.
Since the accident, Jones' sister has been helping him "organize, follow through, stay safe, etc." Kilpatrick wrote to The Times on Thursday.
In addition to the monetary award, the Superior Court jury also gave Jones a separate award — a lifetime worth of pension and coverage of all medical expenses.
Since the trial, Jones had been receiving his pension and seeking some medical treatment, said Jason W. Anderson, a lawyer representing the city.
But the verdict has been under appeal by the city since last fall and neither Jones nor his guardian, twin sister Meg Jones, a Seattle Fire Department lieutenant, have received any of the multimillion-dollar jury award, Anderson added.
The city hired investigators before and after the trial to monitor Jones to determine his physical abilities, according to court filings.
The investigators captured several hours worth of video of Jones during a camping trip at Fort Flagler State Park in April and while vacationing in Montana in June, said Anderson.
In the videos, copies of which Anderson's firm provided to The Times, Jones is seen chopping wood, playing a game of bocce ball, competing in a horseshoe-throwing tournament and even breaking into a dance.
"It was represented at trial that he [Jones] needed a 24-hour personal assistant to help him with his daily activities; he testified at trial that he felt like he was 80 years old," Anderson said.
Anderson said that two of the three physicians hired by the city to evaluate Jones in February 2008 to determine whether he was "totally and permanently disabled" — the criteria for a workers' compensation claim — have reversed their findings after viewing the videos. The third physician has since died, Anderson added.
Kilpatrick wrote in his statement they "never claimed at trial Mark could not do almost all ordinary things on his good days. The jury was told he could carry things, make shelves, walk dogs, had girlfriends, occasionally lift 50 lbs, could drive alone to Montana, could take care of his son on weekends. ... "
Seattle Times staff reporter Steve Miletich and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org