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Jury Awards $3.8 million to Worker Disabled in Electrical Explosion

Lee must now wear a headphone and a special hearing device to help him cope with the constant ringing and extreme noise sensitivity.

A jury in Washington state awarded an electronics technician $3.8 million for painful and disabling injuries sustained in an electrical explosion at an Oakville chip mill.

Verl Lee must now wear a headphone and a special hearing device to help him cope with the constant ringing and extreme noise sensitivity. Ray Kahler, an attorney for Stritmatter Kessler Whelan in Hoquiam, WA, represented Lee and his wife Marsha.

Lee was an electronics technician with Advanced Electrical Technologies of Longview. He was contracted to work on a malfunctioning Variable Frequency Drive in January 2010. Lee was standing in a cabinet where the drive was kept when Daniel Fletcher, escorting him on behalf of his employer Willis Enterprises, attempted to hit a cooling fan in the drive with a screwdriver with no warning to Lee, even though Fletcher knew the drive was energized -- with 480 volts of electricity, four times that of a household outlet.

The action triggered an explosion so bright that Fletcher temporarily lost his sight. The explosion was so loud that Lee, whose position in the cabinet left him especially exposed to the shock waves, developed hyperacusis (abnormal sound sensitivity) and a case of tinnitus that Dr. William Martin, one of the top tinnitus experts in the world, said put Lee in the top one or two percent of people who suffer from this debilitating condition. Lee also developed chronic pain behind his eyes.

In court testimony, Fletcher compared his actions with that of playing the game “Operation.” “This was no game,” said attorney Kahler. “Fletcher’s actions were extremely negligent. It has been four long years but the Lees finally have justice.”

Lee, who had been an elder in his church, a leader in the worship team and director of the choir, had to give up those activities, as well as driving and his job.

“Verl had a full life that he loved, but he has been forced to give much of it up, and now spends most of his days in bed with special devices in his ears and headphones that thwart noises,” Kahler said. “The jury verdict took into account that Verl’s injuries affected every aspect of his life, from his ability to work to being able to do things with his grandchildren, and did not accept the excuses the defendant made to dodge responsibility for the explosion.”

The total verdict was $4.3 million, but Verl Lee was found to be 10 percent at fault. The bulk of the verdict stems from nonmonetary damages to Verl Lee, $2.25 million of the $3.8 million total. A total of $414,000 is included for Marsha Lee’s loss of consortium, or familial relationship.

The Lees also are represented by Craig Weston of Reitsch, Weston and Blondin. The case is Verl and Marsha Lee v. Willis Enterprises and Daniel Fletcher in Grays Harbor County Superior Court.

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