In many industries, hearing loss remains a substantial problem. In fact, on military bases and facilities handling military aircraft and other heavy military vehicles, excessive noise levels are a constant problem. That is why it is fortunate that hearing loss is a compensable injury under the Defense Base Act and the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (Longshore Act).
1. Many Workers Do Not Know That They Can Make a Claim for Hearing Loss
There is a sense among may employees in noisy workplaces that the noise is essentially “just the way it is” for an employee in that industry. Accordingly, employees are not even aware that they can make a workers’ compensation claim for hearing loss as a compensable injury. Thus, a lot of employees with hearing impairments retire without filing a claim because they are unaware that they can.
A report from The Hearing Journal about work-related hearing loss claims makes clear that excessive noise in work environments causing hearing loss is a “huge problem” in the United States. In that vein, all workers are entitled to a safe work environment. If high decibels of sound over an extended period of time are unsafe for an employee’s hearing, the employer has the obligation to provide protective gear, or the employee may seek compensation.
2. Statistics on Hearing Loss Claims in the Workplace
Did you know 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 that another nine million are exposed to chemicals that may result in hearing loss? However, relatively few work-related hearing loss claims are actually filed.
For the years 2000 to 2012, about 888 hearing-loss claims were closed; yet, during that same time frame there were a total of 2.69 million workers’ compensation claims in total. Thus, the percentage of workers’ compensation claims that are related to hearing loss is unusually low.
In addition, 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.
Accordingly, it seems as though harmful noise levels at work are commonplace, yet very few claims are made. And, when hearing loss claims are made, they tend to result in less compensation than other work-related injuries.
3. Hearing Loss is Covered by the Defense Base Act and the Longshore Act
Jobs on military bases as well as longshore jobs typically involve workplaces that have high noise levels. Thus, it is important that hearing-loss is covered under the Defense Base Act and the Longshore Act.
Interestingly, the Defense Base Act sees hearing loss as a traumatic injury, and not as an occupational disease (which is an injury that increases, and is eventually discovered, over time). The significance of the difference in classification is that a person claiming workers’ compensation under the Defense Base Act must be more conscious, when making a claim, of the time he or she was exposure to harmful noise levels.
4. Kinds of Hearing Loss Covered Under the Law
The Defense Base Act and the Longshore Act cover certain types of hearing loss, which is determined through the use of an audiogram that is administered by a professional audiologist. The kinds of hearing loss covered are monaural, and binaural.
Monaural hearing loss is a loss of hearing in only one ear. 100 percent monaural hearing loss, i.e., total loss of hearing in one ear, makes you eligible for one year of compensation at the rate set under the Defense Base Act and the Longshore Act.
For anything short of 100 percent hearing loss, the compensation will be calculated in accordance with the percentage of hearing loss. Thus, if you have 50 percent hearing loss in one ear, then you would be compensated for 26 weeks, which is one-half of a year.
Binaural hearing loss is, as you might assume, a loss of hearing in both ears. 100 percent binaural hearing loss would result in 200 weeks of compensation. As with monaural loss, any percentage less than 100 percent would result in compensation for that percentage of 200 weeks.
5. Challenges to Claims, and Presumptions
Insurance companies seem to be stricter when it comes to accepting hearing loss claims, compared to other workers’ compensation claims. That said, certain presumptions in a claimant’s favor exist in connection with hearing loss.
Specifically, the notion that the workplace caused the hearing loss is presumed whenever a hearing loss claim is made under the Longshore Act. Thus, just making a claim, as a longshoreman or military base worker, that you were exposed to loud noise in the workplace creates a presumption that your hearing loss is because of your work environment.
That means that the insurance company has the burden to prove otherwise. The insurance company may seek to show that the hearing loss was due to a pre-existing condition, or occurred prior to your current employment. But, that burden is on the insurance company, not on you as the claimant.
6. Limits on Your Time to File a Claim
The parameters of when you must file a claim for hearing loss under the Defense Base Act or Longshore Act favor claimants. That is because the time period within which you must file a claim does not begin until you:
- Have an audiogram that shows a loss of hearing,
- Receive the results of that test, and
- Discover that there is a connection between your hearing loss and the noise levels at your workplace.
Defense Base Act Attorneys in Florida are Ready to Help You with a Hearing Loss Claim
Filing a workers’ compensation claim for hearing loss can be difficult, and there are many rules to follow. Accordingly, you would be wise to get the help of an experienced Defense Base Act and Longshore Act attorney. We invite you to contact the Law Offices of RITE Law. We can help. Our number is (904) 500-RITE or you can fill out our contact form online. We provide a free case evaluation, so call us today.