£360 million was spent by insurance companies on Occupational Deafness claims in 2014.
There are many new cases of people receiving compensation for hearing damage each year, through both civil claims and the Government disability benefit scheme, with considerable costs to industry, society and, most importantly, the people who suffer the disability.
Claims for hearing damage are on the increase.
In 2010, there were 24,352 Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) claims notified. This increased to 85,155 in 2013, an increase of almost 250% with a total estimated cost of over £400 million.
According to a study of the costs and funding of occupational diseases in six European countries (excluding the UK), the cost of hearing loss due to noise represents on average just over 10% of the total cost of compensation of occupational diseases.
A significant proportion of the cost of NIHL claims is made up by claimant lawyer legal fees. In 2013 the average compensation payment for a NIHL claim was £3,100, while average claimant legal costs were £10,400. This means that for every £1 paid to the claimant over £3 was paid to their lawyer.
But not all NIHL claims are successful.
Whilst insurers and compensators are experiencing a significant increase in the number of NIHL claims being reported, many claims are not successful. NIHL claims fail for a variety of reasons, including the absence of any NIHL, a lack of proof that the hearing loss was due to exposure to noise in the claimant’s workplace or because the claim falls outside the limitation period for making a claim.
NIHL claims feature a number of distinct issues which leave them open to abuse for financial gain by claimant lawyers and claims management companies including poor quality medical evidence, unmerited claims for tinnitus and claims outside the limitation period.
In order to make a claim, a claimant who believes they may have suffered NIHL will be required to obtain medical evidence to show the extent of their NIHL. The claimant will be sent to an audiologist, usually arranged by the claimant lawyers or the claims management companies, to conduct a hearing test. The audiologist should test the claimant’s hearing in clinical surroundings and produce the results in the form of an audiogram. However, the results can be distorted where hearing tests are conducted in non-compliant conditions, e.g. noisy environments.
ABI data demonstrates that some 58% of successful NIHL claims include a claim for tinnitus, which increases the average damages paid by over 20%. Like whiplash, there is no objective test for tinnitus, making it susceptible to exploitation for financial gain. Also like whiplash, the diagnosis of tinnitus is solely dependent on the history supplied by the claimant. Medico-legal reports rarely go beyond recording the history of symptoms given by the claimant making it very challenging to dispute a claim for tinnitus.
The current limitation period for making an NIHL claim is three years from when the claimant became aware, or ought to have been aware, that exposure to noise in the work place has led to NIHL.