Hearing loss remains a significant problem in many industries, particularly in noisy industries like manufacturing. Moreover, excessive noise levels are a constant problem on military bases and facilities that deal with military aircraft and other heavy military vehicles. Fortunately, hearing loss is a compensable injury under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (Longshore Act), the Defense Base Act, and Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Statute.
Workers May Not Know They Can Make a Workers’ Compensation Claim for Hearing Loss
Many contractors and employees might see the noise as the “just part of the job,” and the cost of doing business in that field. Even though hearing impairment due to consistent exposure to high decibels of sound is a compensable injury under workers’ compensation, a lot of employees do not know that.
In fact, a lot of employees with hearing impairments retire without filing a claim because they are unaware that they can file a claim under workers’ compensation. According to a report from The Hearing Journal about work-related hearing loss claims, it is clear that excessive noise in work environments causing hearing loss is a “huge problem” in the United States.
Hearing Loss Related to Work – Some Statistics
The Hearing Journal report notes that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that about 22 million people are exposed to potentially hazardous noise levels at work, and another nine million are exposed to chemicals that may result in hearing loss. Yet, the data is not conclusive about trends in work-related hearing loss because so few claims are filed.
Specifically, between the years 2000 and 2012, 888 hearing loss claims were closed. During that same period, there were a total of 2.69 million workers’ compensation claims. Further, the average payout for a hearing loss claim during that time was $6,688, compared to an average payout of $10,325 for workers’ compensation claims overall.
Taking all of those statistics together, it appears that dangerous noise levels at work are common in a lot of workplaces, yet very few claims are made. When hearing loss claims are made, they tend to be relatively inexpensive payouts compared to other types of injuries related to work.
You Can File a Hearing Loss Claim Under the Longshore Act and the Defense Base Act
Under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (Longshore Act), as extended by the Defense Base Act, hearing loss due to noise levels in the workplace is compensable. That is not surprising because longshore jobs, as well as jobs on military bases, typically involve workplaces with high noise levels.
You may think hearing loss is treated similarly to occupational diseases, in which the injury increases and is discovered over time. However, the Defense Base Act appears to view hearing loss as a traumatic injury, such that the harm occurs at the time of exposure. That said, the Department of Labor indicates that the time in which you must give notice to your employer about certain types of hearing loss is extended (longer than 30 days) consistent with other occupational disease claims.
Types of Hearing Loss Under the Longshore Act and Defense Base Act
Hearing loss is determined through the use of an audiogram, administered by a professional audiologist. The test will reveal the amount of hearing loss in each ear, and also gives a score as to the total amount of hearing loss.
Under the Longshore Act and Defense Base Act Attorney, there are two types of hearing loss: monaural, and binaural.
- Monaural hearing loss means a loss of hearing in only one ear. If you have 100% monaural hearing loss, then you are eligible for one year of compensation at the rate set under the Defense Base Act. Anything less than 100% hearing loss will result in that percentage of a year in compensation. Stated differently, if you have 50% hearing loss in one ear, then you would be compensated for 26 weeks (50% of one year).
- Binaural hearing loss, as you would expect, means a loss of hearing in both ears. If you have a 100% binaural hearing loss, then you are eligible for 200 weeks of compensation. As with monaural loss, any percentage less than 100% would result in compensation for that percentage of 200 weeks. So, for a longshoreman or contractor with 40% binaural hearing loss, he or she would receive 80 weeks of compensation (40% of 200 weeks).
Pushback from Insurers on Hearing Loss Claims & Longshore Act Presumptions
Unlike other types of workers’ compensation claims, insurance companies seem to be stricter when it comes to accepting hearing loss claims. The good news, however, is that the Longshore Act allows for certain presumptions with regard to hearing loss.
Specifically, the notion that the workplace caused the hearing loss is presumed whenever a hearing loss claim is made. The causation is simply established if the longshoreman or military base contractor states in the claim that he or she was exposed to loud noises in the workplace.
The burden then shifts to the insurance carrier to show that the claimant may have had a pre-existing condition, or that the hearing loss was sustained from prior employment. This “Aggravation Rule” the insurance company may implement does not mean that you are not going to be compensated. But it may limit the liability of your most recent employer’s workers’ compensation insurance.
Time Limitation for Filing a Claim
Also beneficial to claimants, the time limit for filing a hearing loss claim under the Longshore Act does not begin to run until the claimant:
- Has an audiogram, showing a loss of hearing,
- Obtains the results, and
- Is aware that there is a relationship between the hearing loss and the noise at the workplace.
Hearing Loss Claims under Florida’s Workers’ Compensation Law
Under Florida’s Workers’ Compensation law – specifically Chapter 440, Section 15 – you may be eligible for temporary total, or temporary partial, disability compensation for work-related hearing loss. That means you could receive up to 66% of your average weekly wage for the duration of your disability.
Expert Florida Workers’ Compensation Attorneys are Available to Assist You
If you have suffered hearing loss – either from a traumatic incident, or over time – because of excessive noise levels in your workplace, you need to make a workers’ compensation claim. As you can see from above, however, there is a complex maze of rules that you need to follow, and some workers’ compensation plans may make it more difficult for you to get compensation specifically for a hearing loss claim.
That is why you should contact Doolittle & Tucker, who are the Florida and Longshore Act workers’ compensation professionals, to assist you with your hearing loss claim. We fight hard to make sure you get the compensation owed to you, and we make the process easy for you as well. Call us for more information or to schedule a free consultation. Contact us today at 904.396.1734.