Lee v. Willis Enterprises
On March 6, 2014, a Grays Harbor County Superior Court jury awarded Verl Lee and his wife, Marsha Lee, $3.8 million for painful and disabling injuries sustained in an electrical explosion at an Oakville chip mill.
Verl Lee, SKW’s client, was an electronics technician with Advanced Electrical Technologies of Longview. He was contracted to work on a malfunctioning Variable Frequency Drive in January of 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 thought he’d 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 Ray Kahler who represented Verl Lee and his wife, Marsha. “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.”