A QUEENSLAND mum claims she lost hearing in one ear and her children also suffered ear injuries when their flight ran into rough turbulence after a family holiday.
Joanna Spooner and her two children, then aged 11 and nine months, were on a QantasLink flight from Hamilton Island to Brisbane after holidaying at Daydream Island and the Great Barrier Reef in September 2015.
According to a statement of claims filed in Brisbane's Supreme Court, the Dash 8 aircraft hit turbulence shortly after take-off and it lasted the whole journey.
Ms Spooner, a single stay-at-home mum, said her ears hurt and felt blocked after the bumpy flight, but it was only after the pain worsened over the coming months she was diagnosed with barotrauma and perilymph fistula in her right ear, in which she has lost hearing.
Ms Spooner is seeking compensation from QantasLink, the regional brand of Qantas.
"They took me in for emergency surgery after months and months of suffering because no one, by looking in my ear, could see the injury," Ms Spooner, 34, told news.com.au.
"They finally took a CT scan and my GP said, 'Get to hospital' - she thought I had a tumour or something. And they booked me straight in for surgery."
Perilymph fistula is a condition in which inner ear fluid leaks into the middle ear, usually as a result of trauma.
Ms Spooner said she had three surgeries in her right ear but her hearing has not come back. She has been donated a hearing aid but needs a bone-anchored hearing device.
"At least half of my hearing has gone," she said.
"They were hoping by inserting some grommets it would drain enough fluid away from the ear drum and I would get some hearing back but that hasn't worked.
"I've got all the vertigo, the pain; it's in my ear but behind my ear, in my face, down my jaw and down my neck. It builds up because the hole has closed up and it builds up in my face which feels like a million different things. It's hell."
Ms Spooner's son and daughter also suffered barotrauma and have since recovered from their injuries, according to court documents.
Her daughter suffered earaches and balance problems for four to five weeks after the flight, but her baby son was unwell for longer, Ms Spooner said.
"We had 18 weeks of constantly taking him back to GPs and the hospital ... we didn't get anywhere," she said.
"That was when I was finally diagnosed (with perilymph fistula) and I was like, I know something is wrong with him."
Ms Spooner said her son was eventually found to have a ruptured ear drum and endured a difficult procedure to fix it.
"I had to sit on him and pin him to the table because they couldn't sedate him because of his age," she said.
"They didn't realise it was that bad. With his ruptured ear drum the fluid had leaked out but it stayed in his ear and it had set and got really hard, on his newly formed ear drum."
According to Ms Spooner's statement of claims, she and her children have no history of ear drum weakness or barotrauma and none of them were ill at the time of the flight.
Ms Spooner said after she and her family boarded the aircraft, the pilot-in-command told passengers and crew there would be turbulence during the flight.
The seatbelt sign remained on for the whole flight and passengers were told to remain in their seats.
Ms Spooner said she knew flights were bumpier on smaller aircraft but this flight was rougher than usual.
"It was definitely rough and [it was] for most of the flight," she said.
"I remember a guy was sitting opposite us, a big, burly bloke from the mines, and he was cracking jokes saying 'I'm going to be sick'. He couldn't handle it."
Ms Spooner said she didn't report the pain in her or her children's ears to airline crew because it wasn't until days later she realised how bad it was.
"Even when we got home I just felt like I needed to pop my ears," she said.
"My other doctor said, 'Why didn't you report it to the pilot?' I said, it just felt like my ears needed to pop. It got more and more painful but I didn't know I had this weird condition."
Ms Spooner said she previously ran her own business from home but has stopped as a result of her hearing loss.
In a statement to news.com.au on Thursday, a spokesman for Qantas said: "We're aware of the alleged incident but we are yet to be served with any proceedings so we're not in a position to comment."
Shine Lawyers aviation law solicitor David Adams said injuries from turbulence were not uncommon but more commonly related to the neck and back.
"Most often involve some sort of neck and/or back injury, and young children or elderly passengers are most susceptible," he told news.com.au.
"In relation to oratory injuries, the frequency is far less unusual. These injuries arise due to irregular changes in cabin pressure."
Mr Adams said airlines were not liable for all events of turbulence and only when the turbulence was considered "severe" would liability for injuries arise.
"Under the Montreal Convention, an airline is strictly liable for any 'accident' occurring on-board or during embarkation or disembarkation of an aircraft," he said.
"An 'accident' has several criteria to meet, and one is that a physical injury must arise. We consider that damage or injury to the ear drum is a physical injury for the purpose of an 'accident' arising."
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