I’ve been working on a hearing loss claim and thought it would be a good idea to share some basic information about occupational hearing loss L&I claims in Washington State. Hearing loss claims are governed by RCW 51.28.055. Unless hearing loss occurs as a direct result of a sudden, traumatic event (which would be more appropriately classified as an industrial injury), occupational hearing loss claims are typically allowed as occupational disease claims. This kind of hearing loss is usually called sensorineural hearing loss.
However, these claims have some particular rules related to the timing of filing a claim that can significantly impact the long term value of the claim. In short, claims for occupational disease hearing loss must be filed within two years of being informed in writing by a physician or ARNP that an occupational disease claim exists and that a claim may be filed. As a practical matter, it is very rare for a physician or ANRP to put this kind of information in writing without taking the additional step of filing a claim. Therefore, it is very rare to see claims be denied solely because an application was not filed within an appropriate timeframe.
It is very important to know that just because an occupational hearing loss claim is allowable does not necessarily mean it is compensable. For an individual for a hearing loss claim to receive compensation under the claim (most frequently a Permanent Partial Disability or PPD award) the claim must be filed within two years of when the worker was last exposed to occupational noise in employment. In order words, if an individual stops working in an environment with occupational noise exposure in 2010 and does not file a claim until 2020, the claim may be allowed for medical aid benefits (typically hearing aids and lifetime repairs or replacements) but not other monetary benefits such as a PPD.
In summary, if you are a worker and you believe that your work has contributed to your hearing loss it is best not to delay in seeking out a medical examination to assess your hearing loss and to file a claim for occupational disease hearing loss to ensure that you will be afforded both medical and compensation benefits under the Industrial Insurance Act.