Hearing Loss Attorney in North Carolina
If you have suffered hearing loss because of exposure to loud noise while at work, you may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. In addition to payments for medical bills and replacement of lost wages, North Carolina’s workers’ compensation program pays stipends for certain occupational disabilities, including hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by a single exposure to loud noise or from being exposed to loud sounds over an extended period. Exposure to certain ototoxic chemicals can damage parts of the ear and cause hearing loss.
If you have been diagnosed with hearing loss that may be related to your job activities or work environment, call the North Carolina workers’ compensation attorneys at Hardison & Cochran. We know how to help workers harmed by work-related hearing loss seek workers’ compensation benefits. We understand the types of evidence needed to demonstrate a causal connection between your job and your hearing loss.
Do You Have an Occupational Hearing Loss?
North Carolina law defines occupational hearing loss as a permanent loss of hearing in both ears caused by prolonged exposure to harmful noise in the workplace. Workers’ compensation benefits will not be paid unless prolonged exposure to harmful noise in employment has caused some amount of loss of hearing in both ears. Note the requirement for permanent hearing loss in both ears.
Tinnitus, which is ringing or other noises in one or both ears, does not qualify for benefits.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says about 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise on the job each year, which can cause hearing loss. About 10 million workers are exposed to organic solvents that can cause neurotoxic effects and hearing loss in workers exposed to them.
What Are the Major Causes of Occupational Hearing Loss?
Workers who are exposed to noise at or above NIOSH’s recommended exposure limit (REL) of 85 A-weighted decibels (dBA) averaged over an eight-hour workday are at risk of developing significant hearing loss during their working lifetime, the agency says.
However, North Carolina law defines harmful noise for purposes of workers’ compensation eligibility as 90 decibels or more.
Common workplace sources of noise levels that average 90 dBA or higher include:
- Ambulance sirens
- Band saws
- Chain saws
- Compressed air
- Concrete saws
- Combine operators
- Fire alarms
- Front-end loaders
- Hedge trimmers
- Large sporting events
- Miter saws
- Plant tissue grinders
- Pneumatic staking machines
- Pressure washers
- Radial arm saws
- Riding lawn mowers
- Sprayers (1,000 gal.)
- Table saws
- Wet/Dry vacuums.
Chemicals that NIOSH says can damage hearing include:
- Solvents (toluene, styrene, xylene, ethylbenzene, and trichloroethylene)
- Metals and compounds (mercury compounds, lead, and organic tin compounds)
- Asphyxiants (hydrogen cyanide and its salts and tobacco smoke)
- Nitriles (3-butene-nitrile, cis-2-pentene-nitrile, and acrylonitrile)
- Pharmaceuticals (e.g., certain antineoplastic drugs)
Workers can be exposed to ototoxic chemicals by:
- Inhaling them
- Consuming them in contaminated food or drinks
- Absorbing chemicals through the skin.
How To Prove You Have Hearing Loss?
Under North Carolina law, an eligible employee would qualify for workers’ compensation benefits if they could demonstrate that their permanent hearing loss in both ears grew out of exposure to hazardous conditions of their work environment or an accident while on the job. To demonstrate hearing loss, the employee would have their hearing ability verified by audiograms and other testing. A doctor’s evaluation plays a major role in determining whether a worker is awarded workers’ comp benefits.
State law delineates that hearing levels will be tested at frequencies of 500, 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 cycles per second and that hearing loss will be measured by pure tone air conduction audiometric instruments properly calibrated according to accepted national standards, such as American Standards Association, Inc., (ASA), International Standards Organization (ISO), or American National Standards Institute, Inc., (ANSI).
Loss of hearing that averages 82 decibels (93 db if ANSI or ISO) or more in the four frequencies is considered a 100% compensable hearing loss.
To determine the percentage of hearing loss in both ears, the percentage of impairment in the better ear is multiplied by five. The resulting figure is added to the percentage of impairment in the poorer ear, and the sum of the two is divided by six. The final percentage represents the binaural hearing impairment.
The employee seeking workers’ compensation would then have to demonstrate exposure to harmful noise levels in their regular work environment or that an accident – an explosion or other trauma affecting their hearing – occurred. State law says sound in employment capable of producing occupational loss of hearing must have an intensity of 90 decibels or more.
How Much Workers’ Compensation Do You Get for Hearing Loss?
Workers’ compensation pays two primary benefits:
- 100% of medical bills related to a disabling work injury or illness.
Organic hearing loss is not medically reversible. Some traumatic hearing loss may clear up over time. Medical expenses paid by workers’ compensation would include the costs of testing, diagnosis, and treatment, and if recommended by medical providers, the cost of hearing aids or cochlear implants.
- Two-thirds of weekly salary or wages lost due to the inability to return to work.
In most occupations, hearing loss should not create an inability to return to work. If necessary, workers’ comp should pay for the education and/or training necessary to find a job that the worker will be able to perform while living with hearing loss.
Workers’ comp also pays stipends for certain disabilities, including 150 weeks of compensation for total occupational loss of hearing in both ears due to long-term exposure. For partial occupational loss of hearing in both ears, workers comp pays proportions of the 150 weeks of compensation equal to the loss (50% loss = 75 weeks of compensation, 30% loss = 45 weeks of compensation).
If an employee suffers permanent hearing loss as a result of an accidental injury, they are to receive 66-2/3% of their average weekly wage for 70 weeks if that loss is total loss of hearing in one ear. If the employee suffers complete loss of hearing in both ears, they will receive 150 weeks of compensation.
How a North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Attorney Can Help You?
An audiologist’s tests can prove your hearing loss. However, hearing loss often occurs naturally as we age. The lawyer for your employer’s insurance company is likely to maintain that your hearing loss is not job-related.
The challenge for obtaining workers’ compensation benefits for hearing loss is whether you can prove you were exposed to noise that meets the state’s definition of harmful as part of your job duties and/or work environment. Various records and testing would document your employment and the machinery and equipment you were exposed to or a job-site accident.
It should also be understood that the N.C. Industrial Commission (NCIC), which administers workers’ compensation, will consider an employee’s regular use of employer-provided protective devices capable of preventing loss of hearing at the employee’s workplace to be the same as being removed from exposure to that particular harmful noise. In other words, if you use company-provided noise protection regularly, the NCIC will insist there is another source for your hearing loss.
A North Carolina workplace injury attorney who is experienced with representing clients who have suffered hearing loss can help you document and demonstrate the causal connection between your job-related activities or work environment and your hearing loss.
Our Raleigh Hearing Loss Lawyers Are Ready To Help
The attorneys at Hardison & Cochran have pursued many workers’ compensation cases in North Carolina in which an occupational hearing loss has harmed their client. If you or a loved one has a workers’ compensation claim for job-related hearing loss and the insurance provider is disputing your right to receive benefits, contact Hardison & Cochran today. Use our online form or call us at (800) 434-8399. We respond within 24 hours and will schedule a free consultation about your case.