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Worker who claimed fight led to tinnitus not entitled to comp


A former worker is not entitled to compensation for tinnitus that he claims was brought on by a fight in the workplace, a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, Division II in St. Louis held Tuesday.

In Schlereth v. Aramark Uniform Services Inc., the court unanimously affirmed the Missouri Labor and Industrial Commission’s denial of the man’s request for permanent total disability he said he suffered due to ringing in his hears.

James Schlereth worked as a commercial laundry facility production supervisor for Burbank, California-based Aramark Uniform Services Inc. On Oct. 8, 2014, Mr. Schlereth verbally reprimanded several subordinates for leaving wet linen on the production line without spinning it dry first and called their actions “stupid.” One of them spit at him and punched him repeatedly about the face and head, which he said caused him to fall and hit his head against a washing machine. Both Mr. Schlereth and the subordinate were terminated for fighting.

After the incident, Mr. Schlereth was driven to the emergency room and treated for a headache and mild ringing in his right ear. Nine days after the incident he saw his treating physician but did not complain of any ear issues then or on subsequent visits. In October 2017, he filed a claim for compensation against Aramark, contending that he suffered from ringing in both of his ears following the workplace incident and that his symptoms persist and make it difficult for him to concentrate or fall asleep. He presented testimony from a physician who diagnosed him with mild traumatic brain injury and resulting chronic bilateral tinnitus, but the doctor also admitted that tinnitus can be caused by a multitude of other external factors, including the medication Meloxicam that Mr. Schlereth had been taking that is known for causing tinnitus. 

Another expert testified that if Mr. Schlereth did have ringing in his ears, it would not limit his daily activities, and found no medical evidence that he suffered from any symptoms of a traumatic brain injury after the incident.

An administrative law judge denied Mr. Schlereth’s claims for permanent total disability and the Missouri Labor and Industrial Commission affirmed the decision. Mr. Schlereth appealed, arguing that the commission erred in denying his claim because the facts did not support its award.

The appellate court affirmed the commission’s decision. The court noted that the commission reviewed his emergency room records which indicated that he had no fractures, mild pain severity, mild ringing in the right ear only and was released the same day without medication. The court also noted that the commission did not err in drawing on the physician’s testimony that he had "never seen a case that tinnitus resulted in an inability to work.” Although the record did not support the commission’s finding that Mr. Schlereth offered "no evidence" regarding the causation of his tinnitus — since he did present testimony from his physician — the appellate court found that the commission properly concluded based on the evidence provided that the work-related incident did not cause his injury.






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