Can You Sue an Employer for Workplace-Related Hearing Loss?
There are numerous ways people can be injured on the job, and one way involves hearing loss caused by either sudden or repetitive exposure to loud noises. Since the loss of a major sense can have a significant impact on a person's quality of life, you may be wondering if you can sue for the damages and losses associated with that type of injury. It depends on a number of factors. Here are two that can affect your case.
Covered by Workers' Compensation
Whether you can hold your employer liable for your injury depends on if said injury is covered by workers' compensation. This is a type of insurance designed to compensate employees for injuries they sustain on the job. The insurance company will typically pay the employee's medical bills, lost wages, and provide a monthly disability stipend if warranted. In return, the employee is barred from suing the employer in civil court.
Most employers are required to have workers' comp insurance. As a result, you will likely be obliged to submit a claim to the insurance company to obtain compensation, which may be significantly less than you deserve. There are exceptions, though.
In some states, companies only have to get workers' comp insurance after they hire a certain number of employers (e.g. five or more in Alabama). Domestic employees, casual laborers, independent contractors, agricultural employees, and certain other types of workers are exempt from being covered by a workers' comp policy. In these cases, an employee can sue the employer directly for damages and possibly get more money than they would from the insurance provider.
Prior Knowledge of Risk
Another thing that can prove challenging when suing for compensation for hearing loss is whether you knew that was a risk when you were hired. Hearing loss is an unfortunate side effect of the job in some industries like construction or emergency services. If the employer can prove you knew upfront you were putting your hearing health at risk, the court may rule against you.
There are a couple of ways around this. If your employer didn't provide adequate safety gear to protect against the potential hearing loss (or failed to advise you about protective gear), you could make a case that your employer's negligence contributed to your injury and should be held liable based on that reasoning.
A second option is to prove the danger was greater than what the employer represented to you. For instance, a group of firefighters are suing the manufacturer of a siren they say contributed to their hearing loss. The manufacturer states the siren sounds at the level recommended by OSHA (i.e. 85 decibels). However, sound experts indicate the siren may actually be much louder than the manufacturer advertised. In this case, you may be able to sue both the employer and the manufacturer for damages if you can prove they misrepresented the danger.
For more information about this issue or help with a case, contact a personal injury attorney through resources like http://www.tblakelaw.com.