Seattle Fire Settles Hearing Loss Claim for $495k

The City of Seattle has agreed to settle a suit filed by a firefighter who claims his captain permanently damaged his hearing by blowing the siren when he was close by it.

Firefighter Rodney Bingham filed suit against the city claiming his hearing loss injuries, including tinnitus, was the direct result of the actions of his captain at Station 41 on October 11, 2011. At the time the remote control for the overhead door was not functioning, and a firefighter had to stand by the door as the apparatus exited in order to close it.

As the crew was preparing to leave on a run and Bingham was standing proximately four feet from the bumper-mounted siren, the captain activated it. He then continued to sound the siren for reasons that the parties disagree. According to Bingham’s attorney, Randolph Gordon:

  • “There is a difference between someone looking you in the eye and breaking your arm and someone accidentally tripping you and breaking your arm.”
  • “With the settlement we will never know the answer to why the captain did that.”
  • “Did he do it to hurt Rod on purpose? Was it a prank? Was it a payback? He claimed he was confused, but he had to reach all the way across the front seat to press the button and instead of letting go, he held it.”

According to court records, Bingham’s acoustics expert determined the sound pressure generated by the siren at four feet is 100,000 times greater than the sound pressure experienced by the driver in a closed car 100 feet in front of an engine with an activated siren.

Seattle Fire Department PIO Kyle Moore was quoted as saying: “There was no indication that [the captain’s] actions were deliberate”. The captain was not disciplined for the incident.

The case was settled for $495,000 just a week before the trial was scheduled to begin in King County Superior Court. Bingham, a 23 year veteran, remains on the department.

No word on why workers comp exclusivity did not result in the case being dismissed. One reason could be the allegation of an intentional act, which is a common exception to exclusivity. Another question… why wouldn’t a plaintiff in this situation jump on the mass-tort siren-related hearing loss bandwagon?? Perhaps our esteemed colleague, John Murphy, might weigh in with an opinion.

Here is more on the story.

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.

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