The Oregon Workers' Compensation Board recently decided an appeal of an occupational hearing loss claim. This cases interesting because it shows that exposure to excessive noise over the course of a career is not th eonly thing that can cause occupational hearing loss.
Occupational hearing loss claims in Oregon are considered "occupational diseases." This means that an injured worker must show the work activity or work environment is the major or dominant cause of the hearing loss when compared to all other causes, combined. In many cases, well compensated defense doctors will attribute hearing loss to other causes, like age, diabetes, and off work exposure to noise.
In this recent case, the treating physician reviewed the injured worker's medical records, and found that he had been exposed to Agent Orange while working in the military. As a result, the injured worker contracted diabetes, which in turn contributed to some of his hearing loss. Normally, hearing loss caused by diabetes would fall into that category of a non--work related of hearing loss. However, in this case, the treating physician dug deep into the medical records to determine the ultimate cause of the hearing loss.
This long ago exposure to Agent Orange is part of the case because of the 'Last Injurious Exposure Rule." That rule provides that a worker need only prove that the last employment contributed somewhat to the hearing loss, as opposed to being the majority of the hearing loss. So the question really is whether the life long exposure to noise, or in this case, other occupational factors that could cause hearing loss, acted as the major cause of the hearing loss. This rule prevents an injured worker from having to prove the exact contribution of hearing loss from multiple employers over several years, which would be an almost impossible task.
This is a good case for injured workers, and we appreciate the victory because we know the up hill battle involved. The opinion also shows the importance of a sound and well informed medical opinion