It can be common for those who are exposed to high levels of noise to develop serious hearing loss or even total deafness. Those particularly at risk are individuals who work around heavy machinery, in industrial settings or even those working in the entertainment industry. Personal protective equipment such as headphones and earplugs can help protect from the damage.
If you injure your ears, like any other part of your body, you may be entitled to make a claim for compensation. In order to be successful in recovering compensation, someone else must be at fault for your accident. This may be an individual, a business, or a public body. For instance, if your hearing is impaired as a result of exposure to high noise levels in the workplace, you may be entitled to make a compensation claim against your employer.
Structure of the ear
The human ear is comprised of four distinct areas - the outer ear, the eardrum, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear, also known as the auricle, is the externally visible portion of the ear which leads to the external auditory canal. It is here that sound waves are captured and travel to the eardrum. The eardrum is very thin membrane which separates the outer and middle ear. The middle ear contains ossicles; three small bones that are connected and transmit sound waves to the inner ear, and the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the nose. This canal helps equalize the pressure in the middle ear and is lined in mucus like the inside of the nose or throat. Finally, the inner ear contains the cochlea, the vestibule, and the semi-circular canals which together contain the nerves for hearing and the receptors for balance.
We hear when sound travels into the outer ear and down the auditory canal. The sound waves then strike the thin membrane of the eardrum, causing the ossicles to vibrate. These tiny bones amplify the sound and carry them to the inner ear. Once in the inner ear, the sound waves are converted into electrical impulses which are carried to the brain through the auditory nerves. The brain translates the electrical impulses into sound we can understand.
Sound is measured in decibels (dBA). A normal conversation will likely have a rating of between 60 and 70dBA. Sounds at this level or lower, even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause any hearing damage. However, long or repeated exposure to sound at or above 85dBA can be harmful. A motorbike can be as loud as 80 to 110dBA. Sporting events and concerts are likely to be between 94 and 110dBA. Sirens are typically measured at 110 to 129dBA. A firework show will record ratings of between 140 and 160 dBA.
How is hearing loss and tinnitus caused?
Noise-induced hearing loss is estimated to be the second biggest cause of deafness behind old age. Noise-induced hearing loss can happen immediately or it may develop over a period of time. In many cases, the individual will not be aware of the effects until years after they were first exposed to loud noise. The common causes of noise-induced hearing loss are exposure to loud music for a prolonged period of time, working around heavy machinery, and loud bursts of noise such as from gunshots or explosions. For this reason, it is common for individuals to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss as a result of duties associated with their employment.
Exposure to loud noises can reduce the ability to hear higher frequencies, but over time can also reduce the ability to hear lower frequencies. If the ability to hear continues to decline, eventually it becomes difficult to follow conversations and hear even very loud noises. Some individuals will experience total deafness.
Many will suffer from tinnitus as a result of exposure to loud noise. Tinnitus is the perception of noises in the head or ear which have no external source. It is often reported as a ringing type sound but can be experienced differently by each individual. It can sound like a buzzing or whooshing, and in some cases can even sound like music. Tinnitus can occur when the lining of the cochlea is damaged by exposure to loud noise. This can happen gradually with exposure over a prolonged period of time or from sudden loud noise. In some cases, the individual may suffer from hearing loss which is accompanied by tinnitus. This is referred to as Sensorineaural hearing loss.
There is no cure for hearing loss, however hearing aids can help to lessen the effect of deafness.
What can you claim for?
If you have suffered from noise-induced hearing loss, the amount of compensation a court may award you will depend on the severity of the damage and the effect it has had, and will continue to have, on your life. Some of the factors the court will look at when assessing the level of compensation are:
- The degree of pain experienced and the length of time it takes to make a full recovery where possible;
- The effect of the injury on your everyday life and its long-term implications. This includes the ability to continue to work or take part in hobbies and activities previously enjoyed;
- Wage loss, both past and future, and whether any services have been required by family and friends;
- The extent of the treatment required, particularly whether surgery was needed; and
- Whether there was a pre-existing hearing problem and the extent to which this was exacerbated by the accident.
- Whether hearing aids or other specialised equipment are required to mitigate the effects of noise-induced hearing loss, and if so, the anticipated costs of that equipment for the period considered necessary.
Our experienced personal injury solicitors will be able to quantify these factors and establish how much you are likely to receive in compensation.
What could your claim be worth?
If you have a claim for compensation, how much could you be awarded?
Morton Fraser's Compensation Calculator is a handy guide which can provide you with an indication of the value of your injury. It is based on the Judicial College Guidelines which take account of recent court decisions and serve as a reference point for lawyers when considering compensation. The recommended awards for hearing loss are set out below.
- For instances of total deafness where the individual is particularly young, the court would likely award between £109,650 and £140,660.
- Total loss of hearing in just one ear could attract an award of between £31,310 and £45,540.
- Severe tinnitus and a reduction in hearing is valued between £29,710 and £45,540.
- For moderate tinnitus and hearing loss, or moderate to severe tinnitus, or hearing loss alone, the Court would make an aware of between £14,900 and £29,710.
- Mild tinnitus with some hearing loss would likely attract an award in the region of £12,590 to £14,900. Whereas mild tinnitus alone or mild hearing loss alone would attract an award of around £11,720.
- For instances of slight or occasional tinnitus with slight hearing loss, the Court could make an award of between £7,360 and £12,590.
- Slight hearing loss without tinnitus, or slight tinnitus without hearing loss would be valued at up to £7,010.
- For cases where noise exposure has caused an acceleration of a pre-existing condition where hearing-aids would have always been needed, the Court will likely make lower awards. Where the need for a hearing aid has been brought forward by five years, the Court would award around £5,000. Where it has been brought forward by fifteen years, the Court would award around £9,700.
Morton Fraser has successfully recovered damages in a number of cases where individuals suffered hearing loss following exposure at their place of work. This includes cases where our clients were unable to continue with the job they carried out before their accident. In those cases, we required to consider carefully how our client was going to earn a living in the future so that we could assess any future loss of earnings and the potential for a claim for future loss of employability to account for any difficulties in gaining employment. Such a claim would also take into account the costs of training for a new role, the difference (if any) in earnings between the new role and the previous one, and the likelihood of securing employment in a different sector. We work with clients to consider the position, often with the assistance of employment experts.
Who is the claim against?
Who is liable to pay compensation will depend upon the circumstances of the accident and who is to blame for your accident occurring. If you have suffered from hearing loss as a result of exposure to high levels of noise in the workplace, you may be entitled to raise a claim against your employer. Employers have an obligation to provide hearing protection, such as headphones and earplugs, as well as appropriate training and information to staff. Equally, employees have a duty to wear any protective equipment that is provided and follow guidance. Morton Fraser's Personal Injury Team has extensive experience in pursuing all types of claims and we can provide you with advice on who is liable to pay compensation once we have discussed the facts and circumstances of your claim.
The above guidelines and our Compensation Calculator provide an initial indication of the values a court may award for the pain and suffering you have endured, but do not take into account other losses such as assistance you required following your accident, the cost of medical treatment, past and future wage loss, pension loss and any other expenses you have incurred as a result of the accident. Each individual case must be considered on its own facts and circumstances. Our experienced Personal Injury lawyers will take the time to assess your claim and can help you get the compensation you are entitled to. Contact us today on 0131 247 1000 or through our personal injury compensation enquiry form.
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