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The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld an award of benefits to a worker for hearing loss he suffered over 30 years as a safety manager for various employers.
Dennis Sershen began his career in 1986 at Streater Inc., a manufacturer of store fixtures, where he spent 10 to 15 hours per week doing daily walk-throughs in noisy areas. In 1994, Mr. Sershen moved to Truth Hardware Corp., a company that manufactured window and door accessories, where the noise level averaged well above 90 decibels. It was during his time at Truth that Mr. Sershen noticed hearing loss, according to Sershen v. Metropolitan Council, filed in St. Paul.
Mr. Sershen then worked for SPX Corp. from 2001 through 2008, where he was exposed to extremely loud noise for eight to 10 hours per day. He next worked for three months at ATEK Cos., an aluminum casting plant where he was also exposed to loud noise.
He last worked for the Metropolitan Council, where starting in 2008 he worked primarily in an office and was exposed to little or no potentially hazardous noise. He did, however, visit noisy job sites.
After his 2017 retirement, Mr. Sershen filed a workers compensation claim against all his employers for hearing loss, seeking compensation for medical expenses and permanent partial disability benefits.
A compensation judge found that Mr. Sershen had suffered occupational hearing loss. While the judge found Mr. Sershen was exposed to hazardous levels of noise at all five employers, the judge determined his last significant exposure was during his employment at SPX.
Despite finding that Mr. Sershen's work at Metropolitan Council “did not contribute substantially to his hearing loss,” the judge ordered it to pay medical benefits because he was last exposed to hazardous noise there. The Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals affirmed.
The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed, stating that state law states the employer where the employee was last exposed to the hazard “shall” pay the medical expenses.
The medical benefits statute further provides that the last-exposure employer is entitled to reimbursement from the last-significant-exposure employer, but “only in the case of disablement,” the court stated.
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