Can an employee with hearing loss from work-related noise exposure get workers’ compensation benefits even if he filed a claim more than two years after being diagnosed with the condition?
The Iowa Court of Appeals found the employee couldn’t collect benefits since, as a “reasonable person,” he should have realized the “nature, seriousness and probable compensable character” of his condition long before he filed his claim.
‘Tinnitus so severe it caused an emotional reaction’
In Havill v. Quaker Oats Company, the employee began working for Quaker Oats in 1984. He applied for workers’ compensation benefits June 18, 2019, claiming hearing loss from noise exposure. The cumulative injury date was listed as June 10, 2019.
The employee’s hearing loss was described as tinnitus “marked by a constant sound of cicadas or crickets in his left ear.” There were multiple incidents and diagnoses involving the employee’s hearing loss in the three years leading up to the filing of the claim, with one episode of tinnitus “so severe it caused him to have an emotional reaction, including the need to lie down.”
In response to the claim, Quaker Oats argued it was barred by the two-year statute of limitations since the employee knew, or should have known, by fall 2016, the nature of his tinnitus condition, its seriousness, and its possible compensable nature.
A deputy workers’ compensation commissioner, the workers’ compensation commissioner and a district court all agreed with Quaker Oats, finding that the employee’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations.
Should’ve been aware based on earlier diagnoses
On appeal, the employee claimed he wasn’t aware the condition was serious enough to have a permanent adverse impact on his employability before July 14, 2017. But the appeals court found several medical diagnoses from earlier in the same year should have caused him to realize he had a condition that may have been compensable.
Ultimately, this led the appeals court to uphold the lower court decision denying the employee workers’ compensation benefits.