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Parameters for whether an injured worker suffering a low percentage of hearing impairment qualifies for income benefits in Kentucky do not violate equal-protection statutes in the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled Thursday.
The case stems from three workers compensation hearing-loss claims the state Court of Appeals consolidated to decide whether the state’s comp law — which sets a 8% threshold of impairment-rating for hearing loss to qualify for income benefits as to ensure hearing loss related to age is not considered a compensable injury — violates federal protections in the 14th Amendment, according to documents filed in Frankfort, Kentucky.
In hearing arguments in cases Nos. 2018-SC-000215-WC, 2018-SC-000216-WC, 2018-SC-000217-WC. — all workers compensation cases related to hearing loss — the appeals court ruled that the provision is unconstitutional and thus violated equal protection guarantees, as other types of claims do not have to meet this impairment threshold for wage benefits, according to documents.
In overturning the Court of Appeals, with one judge dissenting, the state Supreme Court wrote in its analysis that “(w)ithout the use of a threshold number, the (Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment) contain no reference as to how (state law) would exclude pre-existing and age-related hearing loss. Based on (doctor) testimony, we can only speculate that without a threshold number, every potential employee in the Commonwealth would have to undergo baseline hearing tests at various ages throughout their life to determine the true extent of their age-related vs. occupational hearing loss.”
The court determined that the three claimants did not qualify for wage benefits, ruling in line with an earlier administrative law judge who found the injuries did not meet the threshold.
The dissenting judge in Thursday’s ruling wrote that “(h)earing loss due to hazardous levels of workplace noise is without question a work-related injury covered by our worker's compensation statutes. Therefore, every worker who suffers a work-related hearing loss has the right to be treated the same way as every other work-related injury claimant.”
Attorneys and companies involved could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Kentucky House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would change the state’s workers compensation system, a bill that is receiving support from the business community.