Seattle Firefighter Sues Over Blast Injuries

A Seattle firefighter injured last year in a gas explosion is suing the gas company and two contractors that he claims are responsible for the blast.

Jeffrey K. Markoff filed suit last week against Puget Sound Energy, Inc., Pilchuck Contractors, and Michels Corporation, accusing them of “egregious neglect, recklessness, and the disregard for public safety.” The blast destroyed two buildings and injured nine firefighters.

The complaint explains the facts as follows:

  • On March 9, 2016, at 1:04 a.m., the Seattle Fire Department responded to a report of a natural gas leak on the 8400 block of Greenwood Avenue North.
  • The leak was emanating from a narrow space between the 8411 (Mr. Gyros) and 8415 (Neptune Coffee) buildings.
  • SFD firefighters determined that gas was escaping from a threaded coupling from a steel service line attached to the Mr. Gyros building.
  • At 1:43 a.m., the gas ignited and caused a massive explosion, nearly killing nine SFD firefighters near the epicenter of the blast, causing extensive property damage and injuring a number of people, including Plaintiff Jeffrey Markoff and fellow SFD firefighters and first responders.
  • Witnesses said the explosion felt “like a bomb went off.”
  • When the gas exploded, Plaintiff was within 90 feet of the epicenter and suffered serious injuries including loss of consciousness, that required hospitalization.
  • While he was released with minor orthopedic injuries, Plaintiff has experienced on-going cognitive difficulties, severe headaches, hearing loss, disturbances such as recurring images after the explosion, memory loss, anxiety over the potential for having been killed or dismembered, and related health concerns.

Markoff claims the gas company’s failure to properly maintain its infrastructure and failure to comply with regulatory requirements caused the blast. The complaint cites a Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission investigation that found:

  • “the leak and explosion would not have occurred but for Defendant PSE’s improper abandonment of the service line in September 2004.”
  • The service line had not been “cut and capped,” even though Defendant PSE’s contractor, Defendant Pilchuck Contractors documented on September 1, 2004, that such work had been completed.
  • Due to Defendants’ deception, grossly negligent work, and abandonment, the service line remained active until after the explosion.

Following the explosion, the State Utilities and Transportation Commission cited Puget Sound Energy for 17 regulatory violations with a potential fine of $3.2 million. The utility settled the violations by agreeing to pay $1.5 million and complete “a comprehensive inspection and remediation program” to address thousands of abandoned mains.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Markoff v Puget Sound Energy

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • firehat

    I have to think that the increasing number of suits brought by firefighters against “customers” will result in overwhelming pressure from the insurance industry to adopt a zero-risk stance.

    • mr618

      Or the insurance industry will double-down on “tort reform,” making it more difficult to sue for things like negligence.

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