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Firefighter’s cumulative hearing loss not compensable


A firefighter’s hearing loss is not covered by workers compensation because it was cumulative and not triggered by a single incident, an appellate court held Wednesday.

In Hartman v. St. Bernard Parish Fire Department, the Louisiana Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, affirmed the judgment of the Louisiana Office of Workers Compensation, which held that state workers compensation law only provides disability benefits for permanent hearing losses resulting from a single traumatic incident.

James Hartman Jr. filed a claim for permanent partial disability benefits as a result of hearing loss from repeated exposure to high noise levels in his position as a firefighter with the St. Bernard Parish Fire Department. Mr. Hartman, who began working for the parish in 1990, underwent audiograms for hearing loss in 2008, 2014 and 2017 — all showed increasing levels of hearing loss, and the final one showed a 42.2% binaural hearing loss. In 2017, he filed a claim for permanent partial disability benefits for hearing loss.

The fire department denied his claim and the Office of Workers Compensation denied his request for benefits, holding that Louisiana workers compensation law did not permit recovery for cumulative hearing loss. 

Mr. Hartman appealed, but the appellate court affirmed the Office of Workers Compensation’s decision.

Although the appellate court agreed with Mr. Hartman that the Louisiana Supreme Court previously determined that gradual, noise-induced hearing losses constituted an accident and occupational disease under state law, because Mr. Hartman continued to work and did not suffer a wage loss, he did not meet the eligibility requirements under state comp law.

The court held that the language restricting permanent partial disability payments to hearing losses resulting from a single traumatic accident was “clear and ambiguous.”





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