Electronics technician injured at work awarded $4.8 million for employer’s negligence

by John Chapman

Verl Lee of Toutle, Washington was an electronics technician with Advanced Electrical Technologies of Longview. He was sent to work on a “variable frequency drive” that was malfunctioning at a chip mill in Oakland run by Willis Enterprises.

Lee worked with a Willis Enterprises employee, first cleaning then disassembling and reassembling the drive. Lee eventually went inside the 6-foot-by-6-foot enclosure cabinet for the drive to get a look at the fans, which were not spinning. According to Lee, as he looked over the fans, the Willis Enterprises employee attempted to hit a cooling fan in the drive with a screwdriver with no warning to Lee, even though the employee knew the drive was energized (with 480 volts of electricity, four times that of a household outlet).

The screwdriver struck something active and triggered an explosion. A massive sound wave from the explosion permanently damaged Lee’s hearing system.

Lee now suffers from severe tinnitus and hyperacusis, an abnormal sensitivity to sound. The injury forced Lee to give up his job, driving, and his work as an elder in his church and director of the church choir. He has had to wear special headphones to block out noise.

On March 6, 2014, a Grays Harbor County Superior Court jury awarded Verl Lee and his wife, Marsha, $3.8 million against Willis Enterprises. The jury found the Willis Enterprises employee was negligent, and his actions were 90 percent of the cause of Lee’s injuries. Because he was acting in his capacity as an employee of Willis Enterprises, the company was also liable for the damages its employee was found to have caused.

The total verdict was $4.3 million, but Lee was found to be 10 percent at fault. The bulk of the verdict stems from non-monetary 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.

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Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2014.

by John Chapman

John Chapman is a licensed attorney with experience in complex commercial litigation (including securities fraud, RICO, shareholder oppression, and derivative actions) and personal injury litigation.