In a recent case the South Australian Employment Tribunal upheld a decision that the purchase of hearing aids 20 years after a worker suffered noise induced hearing loss with his employer was not an expense reasonably incurred as a result of his work related hearing loss.

Claiming for noise induced hearing loss

In 1991 when Mr Wade ceased employment with SA Water he made a successful workers compensation claim for noise induced hearing loss. At that the time he had a 14.7% hearing loss. The Court found that the first time Mr Wade had purchased hearing aids was in 2012, more than 20 years after he finished employment with SA Water. By that time his hearing loss had worsened to 56.4%.

Mr Wade made a claim to the insurer for payment of the hearing aids pursuant to section 32 of the now repealed Worker’s, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1986. The insurer refused payment and rejected Mr Wade’s claim.

Mr Wade disputed the insurer’s decision through the Worker’s Compensation Tribunal.

Section 32 provides that a worker is entitled to be compensated for costs reasonably incurred in consequence of having suffered a compensable injury.

The issue at trial was whether there was the requisite connection between Mr Wade’s hearing loss that arose from his employment with SA Water and the purchase of hearing aids more than 20 years later in 2012. It was not sufficient for Mr Wade to argue that he had a substantial hearing loss and needed hearing aids. To succeed in his claim for reimbursement Mr Wade had to show that the purchase of hearing aids (in 2012) was reasonably incurred given his hearing loss in 1991.

The Court said that this was a matter of causation which involved a common sense evaluation of the connection between incurring the expense and the hearing loss caused by work.

The Court noted among other things that:

    1. Mr Wade’s hearing loss deteriorated approximately four times between 1991 when he ceased employment with SA Water and 2012 when he first sought hearing aids.
    2. The length of time between the work related hearing loss and the purchase of hearing aids was “very significant”, being more than 20 years.

When applying the common sense evaluation test the Court found there was not a sufficient connection between Mr Wade incurring the expense for hearing aids and his hearing loss caused by work with SA Water which ceased 20 years earlier. The court said that another way of putting it, was that it was ‘too far a stretch to say that the purchase of hearing aids in 2012 given his hearing loss then was a consequence of his hearing loss in 1991.’

The Court upheld the decision of the insurer to reject Mr Wade’s claim for the cost of hearing aids.

Mr Wades appeal to the South Australian Employment Tribunal was dismissed in a judgment delivered in June 2016.

The decision in Wade raises important practical considerations in claims for payment of medical expenses, including hearing aids. The requirement for a connection between the cost being claimed and the accepted work injury or condition is one that is commonly raised in claims for the payment of hearing aids or accessories such as adaptors or Bluetooth technology. Although Mr Wade’s claim made under the now repealed Worker’s, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, the provision relating to payment of medical expenses (section 32) was replicated in substance in the new Return to Work Act which now applies to workers compensation claims.

Turner Freeman has lawyers specialising in claims for noise induced hearing loss, including claims for payment of hearing aids. We can assist worker’s who have previously made a claim or those who are considering making a claim and require advice and representation.

Should you wish to speak to one of our hearing loss lawyers please telephone our office on 8213 1000.