Louisiana Supreme Court Clarifies the Arrant Decision Regarding Eligible Benefits in Hearing Loss Cases
The hearing loss issue made its way back to the Supreme Court recently in Hartman v. St. Bernard Parish Fire Dept. and FARA, 2020-00693, (La. 3/24/21). The Claimant, who was employed by St. Bernard Parish Fire Department, alleged he was exposed to injurious levels of noise during the course of his employment which resulted in permanent hearing loss. His treating physician opined that repeated exposure to loud noises for extended periods of time, from 1990-2017, was likely a contributing factor to claimant’s bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. Claimant filed a disputed claim seeking permanent partial disability benefits for hearing loss pursuant to LSA-R.S. 23:1221(4)(p) which provides for an award of up to 100 weeks of benefits for an employee who suffers a permanent hearing loss solely due to a single traumatic event.
The Supreme Court used this opportunity to address an issue left unanswered by Arrant v. Graphic Packing International, Inc., 13-2878, 13-2981 (La. 5/5/15), 169 So.3d 296, namely, is a claimant who suffers hearing loss due to a result of repeated exposure to high noise levels on the job entitled to an award of permanent partial disability benefits under LSA-R.S. 23:1221(4)(p)? The answer is no.
In answering this question, the Court distinguished Arrant in which the Supreme Court held that noise induced hearing loss qualified as a personal injury by accident under the pre-1990 definition of “accident,” and in which the issue was limited to whether the plaintiffs had a remedy for noise induced hearing loss under the Act that prevented them from bringing suit against their employer in tort. Arrant did not address whether the plaintiffs were entitled to any specific benefits under the Act.
The Court turned to the plain meaning of the words of LSA-R.S. 23:1221(4)(p), which provides for permanent partial disability benefits when the employee “suffers a permanent hearing loss solely due to a single traumatic accident.” The Court noted the words of the statute are clear and unambiguous, express the clear legislative intent to provide permanent partial disability benefits solely due to a single traumatic accident, and declined to expand the scope of the statute.
It is important to note that the Court found this interpretation did not leave the Claimant without a remedy as the Act provides three other categories of indemnity benefits. However, in this particular case, the Claimant had continued to work with his hearing loss and had not suffered wage loss; therefore, he was not eligible for indemnity benefits under the other provisions.
Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.