Firefighter’s Hearing Loss Not Compensable

A Louisiana firefighter suffering from work-related hearing loss has lost his workers compensation claim because it was not the result of a “single traumatic accident.” James J. Hartman, Jr., a firefighter with the St. Bernard Parish Fire Department, was diagnosed in 2017 with 42.2% binaural hearing loss.

Hartman sought permanent-partial disability benefits from the fire department’s workers comp provider. Despite the fact that medical experts agreed that the cause of Hartman’s hearing loss was the repeated exposure to loud noises while working as a firefighter, workers comp denied coverage citing a statutory requirement in the Louisiana Workers Compensation Act that limits claims to an employee who suffered “a permanent hearing loss solely due to a single traumatic accident.”

Hartman appealed the comp decision to court arguing that hearing loss resulting from a series of “single traumatic events” should be eligible to receive benefits. The Louisiana Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, disagreed:

  • The LWCA provides three other categories of benefits-temporary total, permanent total, and supplemental earnings benefits (“SEB”)-in addition to permanent partial disability benefits.
  • Hartman did not meet the eligibility requirements to receive temporary total, permanent total, or SEB indemnity payments because, as stipulated, he continued to work and did not suffer a wage loss.
  • Accordingly, he sought permanent partial disability benefits under R.S. 23:1221(4)(p).
  • As referenced, infra, that statute expressly authorizes benefits to an employee who “suffers a permanent hearing loss solely due to a single traumatic incident.”
  • Hartman argues that the statute should be interpreted to find that he meets these criteria because he suffered a series of single traumatic accidents.
  • He further asserts that the failure of the OWC judge to apply his interpretation of the statue impermissibly deprived Hartman of a remedy and equal protection under the Louisiana constitution. We disagree.
  • “When a law is clear and unambiguous and its application does not lead to absurd consequences, the law shall be applied as written and no further interpretation may be made in search of the intent of the Legislature.”
  • We find the language of R.S 23:1221(4)(p) restricting permanent partial disability payments to hearing losses resulting solely from a single traumatic accident is clear and unambiguous.
  • Uneqivocable statutory provisions are not subject to judicial construction and should be applied to give words their generally understood meanings.

Here is a copy of the ruling:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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