What types of workplace noise do you think of in connection with occupational hearing loss? Jack hammers, lawn tractors, manufacturing assembly lines? In this case, a worker claims hearing loss from being yelled at on the phone by angry customers.
Linda Zahm worked for National Fuel for 31 years. For 18 of those years, she spent varying parts of her day on the phone with customers who were angry and/or had difficulty hearing.
When she started at the company, a pre-employment hearing exam revealed Zahm had a measurable loss of hearing.
Two years after she retired, Zahm filed a workers’ compensation claim contending she’d suffered occupational hearing loss due to long-term noise exposure “from being on the telephone for years.”
A workers’ compensation law judge and the Workers’ Compensation Board ruled that Zahm had suffered occupational hearing loss. The company appealed.
Zahm’s treating physician testified that her hearing loss was from employment.
However, the appeals court sided with the company.
The court said Zahm’s doctor based her opinion on an erroneous assumption that Zahm spent all 31 of her years on the job on the phone for eight hours a day and was exposed to 80 to 90 decibels of noise.
The court said Zahm’s “description of the actual noise level, which was not measured, was simply too vague and imprecise to establish that it was in fact injurious.”
Outcome: Award of workers’ comp benefits overturned.
What do you think about this case? Let us know in the Comments Box below.
Cite: Zahm v. National Fuel, Appellate Div. of NY Supreme Crt., 4/15/10.