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Painful hell! Multi-million dollar award little comfort for plane crash victim

Published:Sunday | October 30, 2016 | 10:00 AMBarbara Gayle
Still in distress
Minutes into the flight, the plane crashed in the Blue Mountains.
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Eight years after 43-year-old Christopher Watson suffered serious injuries when a small airplane in which he was a passenger crashed in the Blue Mountains, he is still suffering from severe back pains, headaches and daily nightmares of the accident.

Although he is grateful for the $29.8 million with interest that the Supreme Court awarded him this month in damages against his former employer, he said no amount of money can compensate him for his health and the hell he is continually experiencing.

"This accident took everything from me. The things I want to do, I can't do them anymore," Watson shared with The Sunday Gleaner in an interview last week.

"There is not a money you could ever pay me for me to come back to where I was before. Health is so important because without health, you cannot accomplish anything in life."

He constantly suffers from headaches and severe back pains. And this is compounded by sleepless nights and nightmares of the accident. In spite of it all, he is thanking God for sparing his life and for finally allowing him to get the compensation.

ETERNALLY GRATEFUL

He is also eternally grateful for the support of his wife and two daughters.

The survivor was employed to Tank-Weld Ltd as a driver at the time of the accident. Tank-Weld accepted liability after Watson filed a suit, and the matter was set down for assessment of damages.

Watson had always had a fear of flying and he made it known to all his co-workers, so when he boarded the aircraft at the Ken Jones Aerodrome in Portland on August 8, 2008, he was very nervous.

On the day of the accident, he had driven a motor vehicle to Portland and handed it over to one of the managers at Tank-Weld. Arrangement was made for him to travel back to Kingston on the airplane. It was an 18-minute flight and Watson and the pilot were the only two persons aboard.

Minutes into the flight, the plane crashed in the Blue Mountains, and the terrified man said when the plane was going down at "rocket speed", a great deal of fear came over him.

"My heart was racing, I screamed and bawled out. All I could do was to brace myself for what I thought was the end of me," he said.

In his graphic account of the accident, Watson stated, "My head smashed into the dashboard, I became disoriented and I heard the pilot calling 'Chris, Chris, come out, the plane is on fire'!"

In the haze of smoke, he pulled his seat belt and the pilot pulled him out.

He recalled, "I was not able to see from my left eye and blood was all over my face. The pilot's feet were injured and they were a horrific sight. Where the plane crashed, the vegetation was so high, I could not even see the sky. Fearing the plane would explode, we crawled about 30 feet away from the burning aircraft, but crawling took a long time as we had to carefully work our way through the thick vegetation. All that time I was feeling pain all over my body, I was bleeding from my mouth and nose and I felt broken teeth in my mouth."

Watson said he was barefooted, his shirt was ripped apart, and "I was terrified and crippled by the fear of death".

One of his greatest concerns was what was going to happen to his wife, who was eight months and two weeks pregnant, and his four-year-old daughter.

"I began to worry that I am going to die, and what is going to happen to my family," he remembered.

STAYING ALIVE

Watson and the pilot were stranded for two days before they were rescued by members of the Jamaica Defence Force. He recounted that in order to survive, he had to drink his own urine as he was so parched from extreme thirst.

"I became so thirsty that on two occasions I had to drink my urine," he shared, stating that he would never like anyone to experience what he went through.

After they were rescued, Watson spent five days in hospital.

He said he eventually went back to work and was given a desk job in the purchasing department, but the pain he was experiencing were so severe that he could not continue to work. He said after that, the company had not paid him any salary since December 2009, although "I was a very good worker and never had any problem with work".

Justice David Batts, in assessing damages, found that the injuries affected Watson's daily lifestyle and his ability to work. After reviewing the medical evidence, the judge held that the injuries included lumbar strain, injured arm, knee, ankle, face and head, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder that resulted in Watson feeling continuous pain.

Watson was awarded $25 million for pain and suffering and loss of amenities. The judge found that Watson would not be able to compete in the job market, whether self-employed or as an employee, and also awarded him $2 million for handicap on the labour market. He was awarded a further $2.8 million for future medical care.

Lawyers representing Tank-Weld had argued that Watson was not entitled to any compensation for loss of earnings because he had abandoned his job.

Justice Batts ruled that there would be no award for loss of earnings, as there was no medical evidence to support Watson's assertion that he could not return to work because of his injuries.

barbara.gayle@gleanerjm.com