Compensation for tinnitus and hearing loss
Last updated on 04 May 2012
This information has been written to help you understand more about whether you can claim for compensation for tinnitus as a personal injury, the procedure and the likely amount of any award.
Who claims compensation for tinnitus?
It is important to recognise that tinnitus can arise naturally from the ageing process or from other causes, for example, disease of the ear.
Usually claims for tinnitus accompany claims for Occupational Noise Induced Hearing Loss (ONIHL) deafness due to working in a noisy environment. However, it can stand alone where an individual has been exposed to acute occupational noise exposure, acoustic trauma (such as a gunshot or loud bang or loud music at concerts) or stress.
What do you need to establish to pursue a claim?
To pursue a claim, it will be necessary to show that your tinnitus was caused by exposure to noise and that it was caused by someone’s negligence. Claims brought against employers, which form a significant number of the claims brought for compensation for tinnitus, can be brought under the Noise at Work Regulations 1989 after they came into force on 1 January 1990. Prior to these Regulations it was generally necessary to show that noise levels were at a high level (normally above 90 dB (A)) and that an employer failed to take action to protect their employee from the noise by failing to provide hearing protection, for example.
The 1989 Regulations required employers to take specific steps to prevent injury to their employees from exposure to noise if the noise levels exceeded 85 decibels (dB (A)) or 90 dB (A). Levels probably exceed 85 dB (A) if employees have to shout to communicate to fellow workers nearby.
The 1989 Regulations were replaced from 6th April 2006 by the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005. The levels of noise to which an employee could safely be exposed were lowered to 80 dB (A).
One problem which may arise in claims is that they have been brought too late. They should be brought within three years of the injury occurring or of the individual knowing that they had a significant injury and that it was caused by exposure to noise. However, courts can extend this time period in certain circumstances so claims can sometimes be brought later.
Separate arrangements exist for members of the Armed Forces. Details of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme can be found at http://www.veterans-uk.info/pensions/afcs.html or contact their helpline on 0800 169 2277.
What amount of damages are likely for tinnitus claims?
The amount of compensation for tinnitus depends on its severity and in particular the individual’s personal reaction to the tinnitus itself - for example, how frequent and how loud the tinnitus is, the extent of interference with their daily living, whether it delays or disturbs sleep and the ability or inability of the individual to block out their tinnitus.
The grading of tinnitus was considered by the British Association of Otolaryngologists (head and neck surgeons) in 1999. Their recommendations led to a descriptive scale published in 2001 reflecting how traumatic tinnitus can be: slight, mild, moderate, severe and catastrophic. This scale is used today by medical experts to classify the severity of the tinnitus.
The Judicial Studies Board (JSB) Guidelines are a regularly published set of guidelines setting out brackets of awards of damages for personal injury. The guidelines are used by the judiciary and practitioners to assess general damages in personal injury cases.
The current edition (10th) of the JSB Guidelines in relation to Hearing Loss and Tinnitus provides, as follows:
“Partial Hearing Loss/Tinnitus:
This category covers the bulk of deafness cases which usually result from exposure to noise over a prolonged period. The disability is not to be judged simply by the degree of hearing loss; there is often a degree of tinnitus present. Age is particularly relevant because impairment of hearing affects most people in the fullness of time and impacts both upon causation and upon valuation.
(i) Severe tinnitus/hearing loss £19,500 - £30,000
(ii) Moderate tinnitus/hearing loss £9,750 - £19,500
(iii) Mild tinnitus with some hearing loss £8,250 - £9,750
(iv) Slight or occasional tinnitus with slight hearing loss £4,850 - £8,250
It is clear how seriously tinnitus is viewed by the courts when one considers the sums involved in compensation awards. As the awards show, tinnitus is usually accompanied by hearing loss but it does not need to be.
Compensation is not awarded simply for the distress caused by the tinnitus (the ‘general damages’) but also for any past or future loss which an individual has incurred or will incur (the ‘special damages’). Special damages can include, for example, loss of earnings, compensation for any disadvantage on the labour market, the cost of hearing aids, masking mechanisms or training to cope with tinnitus.
How is a claim funded?
There are a number of ways of funding a claim, including paying privately or by financial support from a Trade Union. Occasionally legal aid is available. However, one of the most common ways is the use of Conditional Fee Agreements. These are essentially ‘no win no fee’ agreements and are usually accompanied by an insurance policy so that the individual can pursue a claim without risk of having to pay any costs.
Ian Walker works as a maintenance fitter at a tea factory in Harrogate. Every now and again he would go for a hearing test at work but he never suspected he had any noise damage until one day he developed ringing in his ears and a super sensitivity to everyday sounds. He reported this to the nurse who sent him to see the company doctor. He was told that his workplace was not noisy enough to cause the damage, and that his ears must have been very sensitive.
A few years later, another dozen workers were also told that their hearing was reduced, and Ian felt it unlikely to be a coincidence. He contacted the British Tinnitus Association for advice, and he was ultimately successful in claiming compensation from his employer.
" I love my work and wanted to find a way to resolve this without causing any difficulties, or losing my job. The most important thing for me was to get some help with managing my tinnitus, and for work to accept responsibility for causing the problem. Over the course of the next 12 months my legal team came to my workplace with an expert engineer to measure noise levels and to understand how the tea processing machines worked.
"Between them they waded through mountains of complicated noise readings and medical reports to prove to my employers that they were at fault. The case was settled without having to go to court, and I was given enough compensation to pay for hearing aids and other equipment to help me manage my tinnitus. Best of all, work has made some changes and I'm able to carry on enjoying my job.”
About Unity Law
This article was prepared by Chris Fry of Unity Law with help from Simon Mallett and Roxanne Frantzis, KBW Chambers, Leeds. Chris is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, a Fellow of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL), Trustee of the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) and President of the Sheffield Law Society.
Unity Law offer free initial advice to members about their needs and legal standing via the Unity Law helpline 0114 361 0000 or they can be contacted at: Unity Law, 8th Floor, Fountain Precinct, Balm Green, Sheffield, S1 2JA. Their website is www.unity-law.co.uk
Conflict of interest declaration
Chris Fry is a Trustee of the British Tinnitus Association.
Unity Law are sponsors of the BTA’s Annual Conference, Self Help Groups Information Day and the BTA membership cards.
Unity Law offer free initial advice to members about their needs and legal standing via the Unity Law helpline 0114 361 0000.
Other legal firms may also be prepared to advise on claims for ONIHL and tinnitus.
Full references for this article can be obtained from the address below or are downloadable on the right.
This leaflet is also available in large print. Please contact the BTA if you would like to receive a copy.
Chris Fry, Solicitor and Managing Partner, Unity Law, Sheffield
© British Tinnitus Association
Issued September 2011.Version 1.2 revised November 2011. To be reviewed July 2014
This information has been produced in compliance with the BTA’s Information Production Protocol and no conflicts of interests have been declared. For more information on this and the Information Standard, please see our website.
It is clear how seriously tinnitus is viewed by the courts when one considers the sums involved in compensation awards