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Friday, March 3, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Injured ferry worker gets $2.3 million

Seattle Times staff reporter

After a monthlong trial, a King County Superior Court jury has awarded an injured state ferry worker $2.3 million for a disorder some physicians say doesn't exist.

Tracy Greenwood, 40, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition for which there is no known cure or cause, after he was injured while working on the ferry Quinault.

The state Attorney General's Office offered Greenwood a $90,000 settlement, but he refused, and the case went to trial, said his attorney, Steven Krafchick. In midtrial, Krafchick unsuccessfully offered to settle for $725,000.

The jury deliberated for three days before finding the state negligent Wednesday.

"It's a vindicating verdict for people with fibromyalgia that's been a long time coming," said Krafchick, a Seattle attorney whose practice is devoted to clients with chronic pain.

According to the Phoenix-based Fibromyalgia Network, people describe fibromyalgia as an all-over, deep muscular ache. It is frequently accompanied by irritable-bowel syndrome and sensitivity to odors, noise and bright lights.

It's not clear whether patients significantly improve over time.

The American College of Rheumatology and the national Institute of Arthritis and Muscoloskeletal and Skin Diseases estimate there are between 3 million and 6 million sufferers in the U.S.

Krafchick said there have been settlements in fibromyalgia cases for millions of dollars around the nation, but he was not aware of any other multimillion-dollar jury awards.

The Attorney General's Office said it likely will file a motion to reduce the award.

"Our position is he did not have a serious injury and was not entitled to a large verdict," said Mike Tardis, chief of the tort-claims division. "We feel the verdict was excessive."

An engine-room worker known as an oiler, Greenwood was loading sand into plastic bags in the bilge of the Quinault on April 28, 1996. The job entailed hauling bags up three rungs of a ladder.

Greenwood was carrying a bag on his shoulder when his foot slipped. His supervisor, standing above him, grabbed him by the collar of his overalls to make sure Greenwood didn't fall.

He immediately felt pain in his neck, back and right shoulder, but it wasn't until a year later that the pain spread to the rest of his body, Krafchick said.

In January 1998 Greenwood quit and hasn't returned to work since.

Krafchick argued that the ferry system was negligent because state laws expressly prohibit workers from scaling ladders without the ability to use handrails. The rungs of the ladder were not covered with non-slick tape, another violation of state law, contended Krafchick.

During the trial, three physicians, including a psychiatrist, testified that Greenwood's injuries were real and that he was severely disabled. The state countered with three doctors who said Greenwood's illness was psychological, not physical.

It's the second time in four months that Krafchick has won a case involving fibromyalgia.

In November he won a judgment against an insurance company that cut off benefits to a 52-year-old woman diagnosed with the condition. Insurance carrier Paul Revere retained doctors who concluded that the woman suffered from a mental disorder.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik ordered Paul Revere to pay all back benefits and reinstate her policy.

While the $2.3 million verdict announced Wednesday in King County Superior Court may sound excessive, it is just compensation for a life of pain, Krafchick said.

"These people have miserable lives. The jury recognized that."

Alex Fryer's phone message number is 206-464-8124. His e-mail address is afryer@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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