Does Workers Comp Cover Hearing Loss?

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What does it sound like at your workplace?

Is there a steady level of noise that is annoying, but not painful?

Is it so loud at times that you can’t hear yourself think?

Better yet, can you hear anything when you get home after work?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says if you work in an environment that produces more than 85 decibels of noise over an eight-hour day, you’re a candidate for hearing loss at some time in your career.

The Center for Disease Control tacks on an even louder warning with an estimate that 22 million workers a year are exposed to damaging noise at their jobsites every year.

Surprisingly, not many workers recognize that they can make a workers compensation claim for hearing loss that results from excessive noise level at work.

Cathy Stanton, a partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano in Long Island, N.Y., says her firm averages between 150 and 200 hearing loss cases a year, but made it clear that hundreds more never get filed because workers aren’t aware they have a claim.

“It is clear that many workers are not filing claims for loss of hearing, strictly because they have no idea that they may be entitled to medical and indemnity benefits,” Stanton said. “They may just blame their hearing loss on old age and don’t understand that years of working in a noisy environment contributed to their hearing loss.”

Royce Hoskins, whose firm represents workers on the New Mexico-Texas border where noisy oil drilling rigs abound, says he barely hears a word from people working in the oil fields.

“I can guarantee you that almost everyone working on an oil rig has experienced some degree of hearing loss, but I haven’t had five hearing loss cases in the last 10 years,” said Hoskins, whose firm is headquartered in Roswell, New Mexico. “It’s a compensable injury if, for no other reason, that failure of any body part over time is compensable, but workers just don’t bring it up.”

The most obvious noisemaker workplace is construction sites where a jackhammer operates at 130 decibels, a circular saw hits 103 decibels and even a small tool like a hand drill puts out 94 decibels of noise.

It might be even louder for workers in the oil and gas industry. The pump house (100 decibels), compressors (105 db), generator building (110 db), fracturing (107 deb), rig engine room (115 db) and pump trucks (116 db) all emit dangerous noise levels throughout a workday.

The surprise entry here might be the landscaping business where just about every tool used – lawn mower (90 db), leaf blower (110 db) and chainsaw (110 db) – exceeds the 85-decibel limit set by OSHA.

So, if noise is a constant, or even consistent problem at your workplace, you might want to see if your hearing loss is covered by workers compensation.

Can You Be Compensated for Hearing Loss at Work?

Hearing loss is a compensable injury in all 50 states, though as is the case with all workers compensation laws, the statutes vary, sometimes dramatically, from state to state.

A great first step for any worker would be to call a workers compensation attorney is your area and find out how your state treats hearing loss with workers compensation. There are statutes of limitations in some states; settlements based on percentage of hearing loss in other states; and straightforward workers compensation injury benefits in others.

Surprisingly, few workers seem informed or interested enough to file a claim for hearing loss.

“The insurance company is not going to advertise that these benefits exist,” Stanton said. “We lecture unions, educational organizations and workers’ groups regarding these type of cases and most injured workers file because of knowledge they obtain outside their employment.”

It is possible, though highly unlikely, that a worker could make a successful case for hearing loss by themselves. It’s almost a certainty that you would need an attorney who knows the specific laws in your state and what the burden of proof is for you to have a successful workers compensation claim.

How to Claim Workers Comp for Hearing Loss

The process for filing a claim for hearing loss is similar to other workers compensation cases in that you should notify your supervisor or employer as soon as you’re aware that you’re having a problem. The supervisor should order you to an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor or an audiologist for a hearing test. The physician should have results that measure range and sensitivity levels.

Once the paperwork is filed, the crucial point for every workers compensation claim, including hearing loss, is to prove that the injury happened in the workplace. It is generally accepted that to have a successful claim, the worker must show at least a 10% hearing loss.

There are two types of hearing loss. The first is traumatic, which would be an explosion or gunshot that causes immediate loss of hearing. The other is occupational, which happens when noise is a constant feature in work environments, such as construction sites, factories and manufacturing plants.

Some workplaces require a hearing test before an employee starts work. They want to know if there already is damage to the hearing and if not, exactly where the employee’s hearing baseline is. They might also require protective gear to mitigate the noise levels at work.

Businesses that deal with noise on a daily basis, use decibel meters, sometimes called a noise dosimeter, to measure noise exposure over a period of time. The meter helps them comply with OSHA workplace standards. A side benefit is they can accurately measure daily decibel levels for use in a workers compensation case.

But the real problem is that an occupational hearing loss is a gradual thing It happens over a long period of time, sometimes to the point where employers blame it on aging, rather than the workplace environment. That is why it’s important to keep results from hearing tests performed at work or have them done on an annual basis by an audiologist. Keep all records in case hearing loss becomes an issue. Clinical diagnostic tests and detailed medical records make it much easier to succeed with a workers compensation claim for hearing loss.

The tests can help show the extent of permanent hearing less, which is a factor in the benefits you receive. For example

Workers Comp Benefits for Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is considered an occupational disease that develops as a result of exposure to harmful conditions or substances in the workplace. That qualifies it for workers compensation benefits.

There are three major benefits for hearing loss in a workers compensation case: monetary, medical care and vocational rehab.

The monetary result would be in the form of wage compensation for missing work. As always, these benefits vary dramatically from state-to-state, but the general rule is that an injured worker with hearing loss could expect to receive 66.7% of their average weekly wages for a specific time period.

For example, in Pennsylvania, for every 10% of hearing loss, you receive 66.7% of your pay for 260 weeks. If you have 10% loss in both ears, that’s 20% hearing loss and 520 weeks of benefits.

At the other end of the scale is Florida, where total loss of hearing in one ear is worth just 52 weeks of compensation and in both ears, just 200 weeks.

Medical care benefits typically come in the form of hearing aids, including maintenance and replacement of them. Medical care benefits should include doctor visits, medication, hospital stay and, in some cases could include surgery, but that is very rare.

Vocational rehabilitation would happen would a worker with hearing loss needs to learn a new skill to compensate for the hearing loss.

Workers Comp Settlements for Hearing Loss

Like most workers compensation cases, it is not possible to predict how much an injured worker will receiving from a workers comp settlement. One website says that the median settlement for total loss of hearing is $1.1 million while the median settlement for partial hearing loss is only $95,000.

However, there were no cases cited in providing those numbers so it’s difficult to say whether they are accurate.

One thing worth noting about hearing loss cases that is different from the many other injuries workers typically suffer – in most cases, hearing never gets better. Fixing or restoring hearing loss from noisy work environments is rare, which may be helpful in receiving compensation.

“The guidelines for hearing loss have been in effect for decades, so we believe the standard is fair,” Stanton said. “However, there are so many bureaucratic potholes and hurdles the injured worker must overcome from the initial filing of the claim, the medical and lay testimony that is almost certainly going to occur, as well as any appeals that are filed, that we recommend hiring an experienced attorney to represent them in their claim.”

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Sue Your Employer for Hearing Loss?

You can sue the employer for hearing loss in some jurisdictions, but proving your case might be difficult. Very difficult.

To be successful with your lawsuit, you would have to show noise conditions in the workplace should have been reduced or created in some way; that your employer took no steps at noise abatement, such as ear protection and that the employer was negligent in enforcing safe working conditions.

How Do You Prove Hearing Loss from Work?

There are two types of hearing loss – traumatic and occupational – and they are easily distinguishable and measurable for purposes of determining the percentage of hearing loss a worker may or may not have experienced.

Traumatic hearing loss is a dramatic situation from a high-decibel sound like an explosion or a firearm discharge. It can also be the result of a traumatic head injury that causes immediate hearing loss. Either way, there is a measurable hearing loss that could include total hearing loss.

Occupational hearing loss is the more common form. It happens when workers are exposed to a noisy environment over a long period of time. Construction sites, factory work and landscaping are common jobsites for this type of hearing loss, but it also could happen to emergency workers in police cars, fire engines or ambulances with sirens; stadium or arena workers exposed to crowd noise at sporting events or concerts; and bartenders and servers at noisy nightclubs.

Occupational hearing loss also could happen if a worker is exposed to ototoxic chemicals that can damage the ears and make them susceptible to damage from loud noises. Some of the common ototoxic chemicals are lead, mercury, carbon disulfide, styrene and xylene.

In any of those cases, the worker would need medical evidence that the hearing loss was related to the work environment. The worker would also undergo testing by an audiologist that measures hearing loss in decibels. Every state has guidelines for what would be compensable hearing loss and looks at the results from an audiologist’s test to measure results.

Many states have time limitations involved with a hearing loss and it would be wise to consult with an experience workers compensation attorney to understand the impact of time limits.

How Long Does a Hearing Loss Claim Take?

In most cases, you can expect resolution of a hearing loss case to take 12-18 months. Like most workers compensation cases, the process for resolving a claim lies almost completely in the hands of the claims adjuster and how hard it is to convince him/her that you have a legitimate claim. When it comes to hearing loss, the adjuster almost always disputes the claim and it is quite common for the case to reach litigation. The injured worker will have to describe the type of work they do; types of noise they are exposed to and what type of protection was provided. Doctors will then testify about the percentage of hearing loss the worker suffered and whether that is or isn’t attributable to the work environment.

Can You Claim Workers Comp for Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is compensable in workers comp if it is the result of harmful noise in the workplace and impairs a worker’s ability to do the job. It must be corroborated by medical testing. Because you have tinnitus, does not necessarily mean you have a hearing loss, too. Though the two often are lumped together, they are separate conditions. Tinnitus is a ringing in the ear. Hearing loss is a measure of how close your hearing is to a normal level, which is 20-25 decibels. Workers comp benefits are paid based on the percentage of hearing loss doctors assign to a worker after medical tests. The award would be higher only if the tinnitus is a factor that adds to the percentage of hearing loss.

About The Author

Bill Fay

Bill Fay has touched a lot of bases in his 45-year career. He started as a sports writer, gaining national attention for work on college and professional sports. He had regular roles as an analyst on radio and television and later became a speech writer for a government agency. His most recent work is as an internet content marketing specialist. Bill can be reached at


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