Gradual Work-Related Hearing Loss Not Covered By Workers’ Comp In Louisiana

James Hartman began working with the St. Bernard Parish Fire Department in Louisiana in 1990. His work exposed him to high noise levels, which caused him to undergo audiograms on January 24, 2008, April 10, 2014, March 1, 2017, and September 27, 2017. The audiograms showed increasing levels of hearing loss. The March 1, 2017 and September 27, 2017 audiograms revealed a 42.2% binaural hearing loss. Although Hartman continued to work, on March 31, 2017, he filed a workers’ compensation claim to obtain permanent partial disability benefits for his hearing loss.

The Department disputed Hartman’s claim for permanent partial disability benefits, arguing that Louisiana’s workers’ compensation laws did not permit recovery for cumulative hearing loss. The matter wound up before the Louisiana Court of Appeals.

The Court rejected Hartman’s claim for benefits. The Court ruled that it found the language of the workers’ compensation statutes “restricting permanent partial disability payments to hearing losses resulting solely from a single traumatic accident to be clear and unambiguous. Unequivocal statutory provisions are not subject to judicial construction and should be applied to give words their generally understood meanings. Hence, this Court cannot apply a more expansive interpretation to the conditions the Legislature enacted for receipt of permanent partial disability benefits resulting from permanent hearing losses.

“The medical report of Dr. Daniel Bode, Hartman’s audiologist, concluded that, ‘Hartman’s repeated exposure to loud noises for extended periods of time (1990-2017) is likely a contributing factor in his bilateral sensorineural hearing loss.’ Thus, the medical evidence established that Hartman’s permanent hearing loss did not result solely from a single traumatic accident. Hartman thus failed to meet his burden of proof to satisfy the statutory conditions required for recovery.”

Hartman v. St. Bernard Parish Fire Department, 2020 WL 2561480 (La. App. 2020).