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Originally published Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 4:20 PM

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Injured Seattle firefighter's award of $12.75 million upheld by court

A state appellate court has upheld the $12.75 million jury verdict for a former Seattle firefighter who was permanently disabled after falling through a fire-station pole hole.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The state Court of Appeals has upheld a King County jury verdict that awarded $12.75 million to a former Seattle firefighter who was injured in an on-duty fall in 2003.

Tuesday's ruling is the second time a court has upheld the October 2009 judgment by a Superior Court jury that found Mark Jones was left permanently disabled after falling through a fire-station pole hole.

When Jones, 48, learned Tuesday of the appellate court's decision he started to cry, said Renton attorney Todd Gardner, one of several lawyers representing him.

"This is vindication for Mark. He's a wonderful man. He's an Air Force veteran, a former police officer and a former firefighter," Gardner said.

The city of Seattle and its insurance company have fought the jury verdict, alleging that Jones exaggerated the extent of his injuries. In 2010, lawyers for the city's insurer released a secretly filmed video showing Jones chopping wood and playing horseshoes and bocce ball after he was hurt.

The city's attorneys have not said whether they plan to appeal Tuesday's ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for City Attorney Pete Holmes, said comments on the case have to come from Carney Badley Spellman, the firm representing the city's insurers.

Jason Anderson, a lawyer with the law firm, said in an email that the firm is reviewing the decision and that the city's insurance carriers are "evaluating their options."

The city is self-insured for $5 million. The city's remaining exposure for the Jones judgment is about $2.75 million. Everything over that amount is covered by insurance.

On Dec. 23, 2003, Jones awoke in a dark bunk room at the Seattle Fire Department's Station 33, according to court paperwork. He walked through the wrong door while looking for the restroom and fell through a fire-pole hole to the concrete floor below.

He was knocked unconscious and, according to court paperwork, suffered a head injury, 10 broken ribs, fractures to several vertebrae and his pelvis, and lung, bladder and liver injuries. Jones claimed his injuries left him unable to work.

In his lawsuit, Jones said his injuries resulted from negligence by the city and the Fire Department for failing to install a proper guard around the fire pole, or the door that led to it.

The city hired investigators before and after the jury trial to monitor Jones to determine his physical abilities, according to court filings.

In their motion to vacate the judgment, lawyers for the city at the Superior Court trial called Jones' behavior a "deception." They also said video secretly filmed at Fort Flagler State Park in April 2010 and in Montana in June 2010 called into question the "credibility and reliability" of what happened to Jones in the fall, according to the motion.

In October 2010, King County Superior Court Judge Susan Craighead upheld the jury verdict and said the silent video might not tell Jones' whole story.

In Tuesday's ruling, appellate judges Steven J. Dwyer, Anne Ellington and J. Robert Leach said that Craighead did not abuse her judicial discretion by determining that "the City's ambush-like trial tactic" of disclosing the video surveillance and other evidence would "unduly prejudice" Jones' ability to present the case.

"Sufficient evidence supports this trial court determination. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the City's motion to vacate the judgment," the appeals ruling read.

While many of Jones' medical expenses have been paid by workers' compensation, the $12.75 million judgment will be used to pay for future expenses and future medical needs, as well as pain and suffering, Gardner said.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

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