Patricia Maher, Esq., a partner in our Baltimore, MD office, obtained a defense verdict on behalf of our clients, an employer and an insurer, in a case presented to the Workers Compensation Commission on April 19, 2016. The issue was "whether the occupational disease of a hearing loss was compensable." The claimant has been a volunteer firefighter for over 50 years and continues to be so. There was testimony and argument on the commission level and an order was entered disallowing the claim.
Hearing loss is considered to be an occupational disease. Many losses for a firefighter are presumed to be compensable, or to have been suffered in the line of duty and as a result of employment. In Maryland, a firefighter is presumed to have gotten ill while on the job for hypertension, certain cancers, and heart disease, even if he/she becomes ill after retirement. Hearing loss is considered due to the noise of the fire alarms, but is not given the full presumption as the other diseases.
The argument was that the claimant sustained a 21% hearing loss based on the claimant's own Independent Medical Examiner (IME). The Defense IME gave a lower rating of 6.6%.
Maryland Statute LE 9-650 estimates that persons over the age of 50 lose 0.5 decibel of hearing per year. The claimant's attorney argued that this should not apply to the claimant since his doctor opined that the hearing loss was a result of fire alarm noise and and fire engine sirens. Attorney Maher argued that the statute is clear and does not make exceptions for those over 50 years of age.