An employee who worked for years around loud machinery suffered hearing loss. He says that qualifies him for disability payments, but his employer disagrees. How did a court rule?
Robin Wright worked as a paving machine operator for Rogers Administration in Oregon. He was diagnosed with work-related hearing loss. Wright filed for workers’ comp.
His employer’s insurance company awarded him permanent partial disability which included an award for “impairment” but not for “work disability.”
Wright argued he was also entitled to work disability because his doctor didn’t release him to go back to work. The doctor concluded Wright would have to wear hearing aids and hearing protection at the same time, which isn’t possible, so he couldn’t be released to regular work.
An administrative law judge sided with the company. The Oregon Workers’ Compensation Board upheld the ALJ’s ruling, concluding Wright wasn’t entitled to work disability.
Wright appealed to a state court, arguing his ability to communicate at work changed because of his hearing loss. His doctor said Wright’s “need for hearing aids made him a hazard to himself and others in the workplace.”
A medical arbiter was appointed to review the case. The arbiter noted Wright said he didn’t wear hearing protection at his employer for safety reasons because he was required to communicate with co-workers. The review concluded Wright’s inability to wear hearing protection with his hearing aids “would not limit his return to regular work.”
Wright counter-argued that he needed to wear hearing aids to hear his co-workers so that he isn’t a hazard and he also needs to wear hearing protection to prevent further hearing loss from noise exposure. Wearing both at one time isn’t possible.
The appeals court noted there was nothing in the record that showed what part of Wright’s job required communication with co-workers. There was also no evidence to show how an inability to communicate would create a hazard.
The court ruled there was substantial evidence that Wright could be released to regular work. The court denied him work disability benefits.
(Wright v. SAIF Corp., Court of Appeals of Oregon, No. A161999, 12/5/18)