A West Richland flight nurse has been awarded a little more than $1 million for suffering hearing loss in her right ear when a plane’s emergency exit opened during descent.
Dawn Workman, 44, returned to work as a nurse after the February 2011 incident. However, she feels it no longer is safe for her to fly with her injury since she can’t always tell where sounds come from with single-sided hearing, said her attorney, George Telquist.
Thursday’s jury verdict in Douglas County Superior Court took into account Workman’s future wage loss and pain and suffering, he said. She plans to become a teacher of nursing.
The verdict was against Executive Flight Inc. of East Wenatchee, a charter plane service that had offered Workman $125,000 to settle the personal injury lawsuit before trial.
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Telquist, a Richland lawyer, said they were satisfied with the verdict after a seven-day trial. They had asked for an award just over $2 million.
“The jury heard all the evidence and Dawn is very happy with the outcome. She got to tell her story about what happened because, throughout this process, Executive Flight took the perspective that she did something wrong,” Telquist said. “It was good for her to ... show that she didn’t do anything wrong. She didn’t pull the handle or bump the handle.”
Workman was with Airlift Northwest in 2011 when she and another nurse picked up a young man in Yakima. They were on a Learjet 35A, which was owned and maintained by Executive Flight and outfitted with two gurneys inside.
Airlift Northwest — a medical transport service for critically ill or injured patients — employs the nurses. It didn’t do anything wrong in this incident and was not a party to the lawsuit, Telquist said.
The plane was still in the air, but starting to land at Seattle’s Boeing Field, when the emergency exit window fell in and caused an immediate change in cabin pressure. Workman was belted into one of the cabin chairs and caring for the patient, her lawyer said.
Telquist said the jury accepted their position that the plane was not properly maintained. A safety wire that should have been attached to the handle to keep it from vibrating into the open position was never found, he said.
Executive Flight denied liability and argued that Workman or someone else intentionally or accidentally pulled the handle so the window fell onto the empty gurney during landing, Telquist said. Workman was on the plane with another nurse, two pilots and the unconscious patient.
Workman’s medical bills so far have hit $40,000, her lawyer said.
“The way the verdict worked out it was very thoughtful,” said Telquist. “It’s a pretty conservative community up there, and it demonstrates that she suffered a real harm that people value.”