Every year, thousands of military service personnel are injured by being exposed to excessive levels of noise. This can be wide ranging in their roles.
Carol Purang is a specialist in noise-induced hearing claims, and acts for a number of military clients who have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
NIHL affects many people who’ve worked in a noisy environment without the right hearing protection or training from their employer. Serving in the Armed Forces can often mean working in a noisy environment, which may lead to permanent noise damage.
Every year many claims for compensation are brought by current or former service personnel as a result of injury. A significant number of these claims arise from hearing loss from weapons fire. We can help military clients in NIHL claims from a wide range of trades, where they may have been exposed to damaging levels of noise.
Typically exposure to noise will come from weapons exposure. This includes:
Light machine guns and heavy machine guns
Explosions, mortars and grenades
Aircraft noise and vehicle engine noise.
But exposure to noise can occur in a wide variety of circumstances in military claims. This can include helicopter or aircraft exposure, exposure to noise inside the cockpit of an aircraft, or even on boats.
We’ve represented those who’ve been exposed to excessive noise whilst employed by the Ministry of Defence in a wide range of trades and scenarios. We’ve also represented Special Force soldiers who’ve been exposed to noise out on the front line, and Royal Navy clients from exposure aboard ships.
Military noise-induced hearing loss (M-NIHL) is very different to occupational noise exposure in a factory which has typically been the more common kind of occupational noise exposure. To date, though, the way the courts assess disability or the extent of exposure and compensation for a solider is based on a methodology used for exposure in the factory setting.
In collaboration with David Green of Counsel, 12 King’s Bench Walk, we want to put in the limelight a new method of assessing the extent of noise exposure or disability in the military environment.
Recent scientific insights provide a new framework for assessing M-NIHL claims. They require practitioners to consider afresh how they approach medical aspects and the level of compensation in such cases for our military clients.
David Green is a personal injury, disease and employment barrister at 12 King’s Bench Walk. He’s presently instructed in the Military Deafness Litigation, led by Harry Steinberg QC, where he represents approximately 4,000 current and former servicemen and women claiming compensation for NIHL. He’s also ranked as a “rising star” in Legal 500. David Green has extensively reviewed this new framework.
M-NIHL claims have been the subject of recent study by scientific experts, most prominently Professor Brian Moore FMedSci, FRS, emeritus professor of auditory perception at Cambridge University. Prof Moore’s research casts doubt on the application of what were considered orthodox methods for identifying and quantifying hearing loss in M-NIHL claimants. Between 2020 and 2022, Prof Moore has published six papers on NIHL, mainly focussing on M-NIHL.
Prof Moore has published a new set of guidelines for diagnosing and quantifying M-NIHL, which supersede the method used for industrial noise exposure. His work also shows that exposure to the extremely loud sounds experienced in military service will in some circumstances accelerate the progression of hearing loss in later life, beyond what would be expected from age alone. Prof Moore’s research has wide-ranging implications for M-NIHL claims, and for NIHL litigation more generally.
In summary Professor Moore’s method has resulted in more positive diagnoses than the current method of diagnosis used for occupational noise claims and has failed to diagnose NIHL in cases when it was in fact present in the military context.
Occupational noise exposure is “broadband”, with a mix of sound frequencies. M-NIHL, on the other hand, is “impulse sound”: short-duration bursts of incredibly loud, narrow-band sound. This produces a different type of sound wave which interacts with the shape of the cochlea differently. Maximum damage occurs in a different part of the cochlea, leading to hearing loss at different frequencies and with a wider range of audiometric patterns.
If the courts accept this method of assessing the level of disability or extent of NIHL in the military context, then it’s likely to lead to more successful results for our clients which to date may well have been missed.
Also, if the Moore’s M-NIHL method is accepted by the courts as the most appropriate method for diagnosing and quantifying NIHL in military cases, considerably more claims for future losses are likely to be successful. The MoD spends significant sums of money providing personal protective equipment, but sadly, sometimes things go wrong. When they do, the effect on the serviceman or woman involved can be devastating, and ultimately mean a lost career in the Armed Forces.
M-NIHL cases are an entirely different category of claim. Time will tell whether M-NIHL cases enjoy better prospects than occupational cases. But for those cases which succeed, claimants are considerably younger, which brings with it the prospect of considerably higher compensation.
The new scientific developments discussed here have the potential to change this field and the assessment of compensation in military noise-induced hearing loss claims for the better.
To make a claim, service personnel should contact us as soon as you realise that your hearing loss could be linked to your work with the Ministry of Defence. There are strict time limits for bringing claims in the civil courts of three years.
Please contact us to see how we can help you.
Carol Purang – Irwin Mitchell LLP - Senior Associate Solicitor
David Green – Barrister at Law – 12KBW
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