Work related hearing loss is one of the most prevalent occupational injuries. Claims of this nature are particularly common in Northern Ireland, where the once thriving ship building and aviation industries have left a lasting legacy of employees suffering from noise induced hearing problems.
Employers have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment for their employees. The obligations on employers have become more stringent in recent years and the current legislation, The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006), has set a high bar for employer’s. This is a positive move toward ensuring that employees are not exposed to unnecessary risk of noise induced injuries.
Unfortunately, thousands of employees have already been exposed to excessive noise in the workplace in the last 30 years. Many of these employees are only starting to experience issues with their hearing now. This 5-step guide is intended to help those affected by noise induced hearing loss to understand and navigate the claims process.
Establishing a Diagnosis and Cause of Injury
Many people who experience hearing problems dismiss it as old age or simply a natural occurrence. It is important to seek medical advice to firstly diagnose a hearing problem and secondly, to establish the potential cause of the hearing problem. It is particularly important to inform your GP or treating doctor if you have had a history of exposure to excessive noise in the workplace.
If your doctor believes that there is a link between your employment (or former employment) and your hearing problem, then you may be able to make a claim for compensation. At this point, it is important to seek legal advice promptly.
Obtaining an Expert Medical Report
After an initial consultation with one of our personal injury solicitors we will arrange for you to be seen by an expert ENT Consultant who will provide a report detailing both the level of injury involved and whether this can be linked to your employment.
This is a vital stage as supportive medical evidence is required for a successful claim. The medical expert may attribute 100% of the injury to a certain period of employment or may potentially find that part of the hearing loss was linked to employment and part to natural causes. Each report will depend on the individual circumstances of each case.
Clients often ask us whether they are still able to make a claim for compensation if the exposure occurred a long time ago, 20 years ago for example. The simple answer is yes. While most personal injury cases must be brought within three years of the date of injury, noise induced hearing loss claims can be brought within three years from the date of establishing a link between your hearing loss and former employment.
Because of the length of time between exposure and making a claim many defendant employer’s may no longer exist. However, a claim can still be brought against whoever their insurance provider was at the time of exposure.
Our solicitors will ask you to provide a detailed list of all former employers so that they and/or their insurance providers can be notified of the claim against them.
Our personal injury solicitors will send a letter of claim to the appropriate defendant or defendants and give them a period of time to respond. The insurance company will then carry out an investigation and either accept or dispute liability.
The facts of each case will be different but we will generally be arguing that our client’s employer has breached their duty of care to provide a safe working environment. This may include a failure to provide appropriate Personal Protective Equipment such as earmuffs.
Contemporaneous documents such as risk assessments, decibel readings and training records may also be requested at this stage.
If liability is accepted, we will attempt to negotiate an appropriate settlement fee based on the injuries sustained including any financial loss incurred as a result of injuries. This includes compensation for past and future loss of earnings.
If liability is disputed, we will issue court proceedings if the case has sufficient merit. We would then have to satisfy a judge that the defendant employer(s) breached their duty of care to our client and caused or contributed to our client’s hearing problems. There is also, of course, a possibility of reaching an out of court settlement without the necessity of a full trial.
For further advice or to arrange a free initial enquiry, please complete our contact form or call our Dungannon office on 028 8772 2102 or Dublin office on 01 533 7860.