At what point is hearing loss so limited that it does not merit compensation?
The question of whether hearing loss was de minimis was considered in the recent case of Wiseman v Overhead Doors (Great Britain) Ltd in the County Court at Manchester.
The Claimant pursued three Defendants for noise induced hearing loss, alleging that he was exposed to excessive levels of noise when employed as a sheet metalworker in the 1970s and 1980s. The Court found the defendants to have been in breach of duty and that a proportion of the claimant's hearing loss had been caused by his exposure to noise, leaving only the question of whether the level of hearing loss suffered was compensatable.
Whilst the claimant's medical expert had advised that the claimant's noise-induced hearing loss was 8.3dB, at trial he agreed with the defendants' expert and conceded that the hearing loss suffered was 3.2dB, and that the claimant's constitutional hearing loss was so great as to place his hearing in the 5th percentile, i.e. his constitutional hearing loss placed him in the 5% of the population with the greatest level of loss.
The concessions made by the claimant's expert led him to concede that the claimant's noise-induced hearing loss was negligible, the defendants' expert advising that the loss was too small to be noticeable.
His Honour Judge Platts considered the line of judgments in relation to de minimis cases including Cartledge v Jopling (pneumoconiosis), Rothwell v Chemical and Insulating Co Ltd (pleural plaques) and Dryden v Johnson Matthey (platinum salt sensitisation) and concluded that, whilst the Claimant had suffered damage to his ears, as his perception of his hearing is no worse due to his exposure to noise than it would have been due to his constitutional hearing loss, he was not materially worse off than he would have been if he had not been exposed to noise.
As the claimant had not suffered a noticeable loss of hearing through his being exposed to noise, his claim was dismissed.
This judgment, whilst at County Court level, should assist insurers and their representatives in defending claims for low levels of hearing loss. DAC Beachcroft represented the First Defendant in this claim.