Jury Awards Injured Electronics Technician and his Wife $3.876,139

Today, a jury at Gray Harbor County Courthouse arrived at a $3,876,139 verdict for a Toutle, WA man’s painful and disabling injuries as the result of the defendants’ negligence at an Oakville, WA mill. Attorneys Ray Kahler and Keith Kessler of Stritmatter Kessler Whelan along with Craig Weston of Reitsch, Weston & Blondin represented the plaintiffs, Verl and Marsha Lee.

The Drive at Willis Enterprises mill was ruined after its employee recklessly hit the fan component with a screwdriver

The Drive at Willis Enterprises mill was ruined after its employee recklessly hit the fan component with a screwdriver

From infancy, most of us are taught that serious harm and injury can result if you stick something in an electrical outlet. But Daniel Fletcher, an employee of Willis Enterprises, failed to grasp this basic safety concept:  When Verl Lee, an electronics technician contractor was dispatched to address a malfunctioning Variable Frequency Drive at Willis Enterprises’ mill, Mr. Fletcher decided–out of the blue–to stick a screwdriver into the Drive. The Drive generates 480 volts of electricity.  By comparison a household outlet is 120 volts.

When Mr. Fletcher stuck the screwdriver into the Drive, he was fully aware that the Drive was energized. As Mr. Fletcher stuck the screwdriver into the Drive, there was an immediate explosion.  Mr. Fletcher’s action triggered an electrical arc fault, which caused an intense, bright flash of light, a very loud noise, high heat, and a pressure wave.  Mr. Fletcher closed his eyes because of the bright flash of light and for a time thought he had lost his sight.

From the loud noise of the explosion, Verl Lee experienced a “terrible ringing” in his head, as well as an intense pain behind his eyes. He heard a clicking and swooshing sound every time he or someone else spoke. The mill manager arrived and found the Drive had been destroyed. Verl told the manager that he would call his supervisor and have a new drive shipped overnight, but that he would not be back the next day to install it because he knew that he had to see a doctor for the ringing in his head.

After numerous medical appointments, Verl was ultimately diagnosed with tinnitus and hyperacusis. Tinnitus is likened to a phantom limb pain, when one loses an arm/leg to an injury, but sensations of pain from the affected extremity no longer exist. This is due to the damaged nerve endings, which are sending signals to the brain. The brain is trying to figure out what to do with them, and it interprets it as pain. Tinnitus is very similar in that the hearing parts of the brain are getting that abnormal nerve signals and trying to figure out what to do with them, so the brain interprets it as sound. Verl hears seven tones in his head, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

!Lee AFTER

Verl Lee must wear headphones and a hearing device to lessen the constant ringing and clanging in his ears

To understand what Verl must live with, imagine putting in earbuds, and then playing a high pitched whine on your iPod, one that Verl Lee describes as that of a “jet engine with all the high pitch whines”, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the rest of your life. Try having a conversation, try listening to music, try just thinking with that irritating sound going on and on and on. That is what Verl’s tinnitus is like.

Hyperacusis is an abnormal sound sensitivity. Imagine that the clanking of dishes being unloaded from a dishwasher makes you cringe and jump. This is what Verl must endure. He cannot use a lawnmower, power tools, or a hammer because noises louder than normal conversation cause pain.

Along with the injuries to his hearing system, the chronic pain behind his eyes makes Verl unemployable.

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