Long term exposure to loud noise in the workplace can lead to hearing loss. Because hearing loss most often occurs gradually, many people do not connect it to their work. Failing to make this connection can cause workers to miss an opportunity to pursue Workers’ Compensation [“WC”] benefits for their hearing loss.
How do I Know Whether my Hearing Loss is Work-Related?
Initially, it may be difficult to know whether you have hearing loss at all. Early symptoms include difficulty understanding others (especially in crowds or against background noise), asking others to repeat themselves or speak more slowly and turning the volume up louder than normal when listening to the TV or radio.
If these symptoms exist, consider your work environment. Are you regularly exposed to loud noises? Do you yell at work? Are you provided hearing protection at work and – if so – do you wear it frequently? Such factors may indicate that your work environment is responsible for your hearing loss.
If you become suspicious that you have work-related hearing loss, schedule an appointment with a proper physician for evaluation. Describe your work environment and – if hearing loss is found – inquire if your work could be a cause. If your physician believes your hearing loss is being caused by noise exposure at work, you may want to file a claim for WC benefits.
What do I do if I Have Work-Related Hearing Loss?
The deadline to file a WC claim for work-related hearing loss is controlled by the “date of disablement.” Most often, the date of disablement is the last day of the three-month period after a worker leaves the employment wherein they were exposed to harmful noise.
For example, Worker A was employed in a machine shop for 20 years. His last day of employment was 01/01/2017. In this circumstance, his date if disablement would be 04/01/2017.
A claim for WC benefits due to occupational hearing loss must be filed within two years of the date of disablement. Thus, in the example above, Worker A would need to file his claim on or before 04/01/2019.
I did not Learn my Hearing Loss was Work-Related Until After the Deadline, what can I do?
Unfortunately, many workers do not realize they have hearing loss–or that their hearing loss was caused by their former employment–until years after they have retired or stopped working. Such delays may cause them to miss their opportunity to file a WC claim within two years of their date of disablement.
Fortunately, there is an exception to the rule. If a worker first learns that his or her hearing loss is work-related more than two years after their date of disablement, they still may pursue a WC claim so long as they file it within 90 days of when they first learned that information.
Ninety days is VERY SHORT. If you intend to rely on this exception, it is VERY important to file a claim for WC benefits ASAP. If not done already, you also should schedule an appointment to secure necessary medical evidence connecting your hearing loss to your former employment.
What Benefits are there for a Work-Related Hearing Loss?
If you prevail on a WC case, medical care for your hearing loss will be paid by the insurance carrier. This often includes hearing aids, a device covered by few private health insurers. You also may be entitled to a lump sum award based upon the severity of your permanent hearing loss.
Claims for work-related hearing loss are complicated. Even timely filed claims tend to be contested. Moreover, the above scenarios are just the most common; other factors exist that may complicate these claims further. Because of these issues, we highly recommended that you consult with counsel if you believe you have a claim for work-related hearing loss.