The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has again called for the introduction of fixed legal fees to halt what they claim is a rise in the number of industrial deafness claims over the last five years.
The ABI claim that industrial deafness or noise induced hearing loss as it is also known, has become the new ‘cash cow’ for claimant law firms to make up for losses incurred through reduced fixed fees in other areas of work.
The ABI say firms are attracted to noise induced hearing loss claims by the significantly higher legal fees involved, with the average fee for a claimant lawyer settling an industrial deafness claim reaching £10,500 last year, compared with £500 for whiplash claims via the fixed-fee portal.
The insurance industry say the number of noise induced hearing loss claims has risen from 1,000 in March 2012 to 3,500 in March 2014, with the average compensation award for an industrial deafness claim at £3,100, meaning that for every one pound paid out in compensation, insurers are paying out more than £3 in legal fees to the claimant’s lawyer.
The assumption that industrial deafness claims are being treated as easy money is a fallacy. Noise induced hearing loss cases come with significantly more risk than routine Personal Injury work and such claims are generally complex with a high attrition rate of failed cases.
The ABI has previously backed reforms similar to those imposed on whiplash claims to counter a supposedly increasing number of fraudulent industrial deafness cases. They have suggested that the existing claims portal be adapted to deal with multi-defendant claims, and called for a standalone portal to ‘reduce the 17 months that it currently takes to settle a typical industrial deafness claim.’
The spike in deafness claims over the last five years is a direct consequence of LASPO and the insurance industry need to do more to reduce the amount of time it takes them to process such cases.
Deafness is a serious disability with a significant impact on people’s social, family and working lives. Those who succeed in making claims only do so because negligence on behalf of their former or current employer is proven. Identifying employers responsible for exposing claimants to excessive noise at work is not always straightforward. As such, cases can be extremely difficult particularly when employers persist in denying liability.
Industrial deafness is a deterioration of a person’s hearing caused by prolonged exposure to high levels of noise at work that can lead to permanent and incurable hearing damage. According to the last three Labour Force surveys an estimated 18,000 people currently suffer from noise-induced hearing loss caused or made worse by workplaces.
Although hearing damage can also be caused by sudden excessively loud noises, hearing loss is usually gradual due to prolonged exposure to noise. Sufferers commonly experience significant hearing problems during their retirement years as the condition can take many years to materialise. As a result, many people put their problems down to general aging rather than a condition caused by their former work environment.
Noise exposure can also cause tinnitus which is characterised by the sound of ringing or buzzing in the ears. In extreme cases, the buzzing can become constant and lead to sleeplessness and depression.
Work-related hearing damage could easily be prevented if employers took action to reduce excessive noise exposure at work and provided personal hearing protection and health surveillance to their staff.
Christopher Briggs is a Senior Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers.
Slater and Gordon deal with all types of industrial deafness claims including noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus and acoustic shock. For a free consultation call freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we will call you.
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