Noise-induced hearing loss – is it really the new whiplash?

Posted by David Vine, business development manager at Legal Futures Associate Allianz Legal Protection

Vine: NIHL claims falling

Vine: NIHL claims falling

As the market begins to settle down following the legal reforms surrounding general personal injury, solicitors and insurers are now assessing the positive and negative ramifications of these changes.

The spotlight has now turned to what is perceived as another ‘growth area’ of negligence claims suddenly coming out of the woodwork, with noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) now being the root of all evil, with the headlines comparing it to whiplash.

Is it really that bad, or is this just another attempt by the media to cause friction between the legal and insurance fraternities, with little regard for those who have truly been affected by NIHL, the claimants.

The latest report from Exane BNP Paribas state that the value of claims for NIHL is set to drop to £361m for 2014, down from £402m in 2013.

The more exposed insurers state that 85% of NIHL claims are rejected but this is not supported by industry-wide information that suggests a figure of 50-60%.In fact, recent Association of British Insurers’ research has found it is between 60-70%.

So, other than the volume of claims reportedly increasing, is there really a link between the claims and fraud? Just how easy is it to bring a fraudulent NIHL claim?

Firstly, NIHL is tested for by way of an audiogram examination. NIHL produces very characteristic results on an audiogram and there is a further test that can be used – evoked-response audiometry, which will almost certainly prove conclusive.

So it follows that a large percentage of these claims rejected must be fraudulent? Not necessarily.

We must remember that a number of these potential claimants were working in the 1960s and 70s and were not aware of when and where the exposure occurred and the exact date. Indeed statistics show that new claims for NIHL date back several years when health and safety procedures were less rigorous.

There is no doubt that some general PI solicitors have seen the opportunity to move into this area to increase revenues, as the majority of claims exit the portal and because of the fixed-fee regime (due to the majority of cases having multiple defendants).

From our own experience, though, firms that enter into this area have found that it is not the panacea they believe and can easily haemorrhage money as only a small percentage of cases succeed past audiogram.

It is therefore incumbent on after-the-event insurers to work with real experts in this area to ensure that claimants get the best possible advice and, in turn defendant insurers dealing with solicitors who know their stuff.

We all need to work with claimant lawyers and the responsible marketing collectives in stamping out fraud and spurious claims, but do we have to continue to pander to those who want to believe that most claims are dodgy?

I don’t believe that is the case and have a strong enough belief that our legal system and the robust investigation of this type of claim is sufficient to weed out claims that have no merit and that we can continue to show the general public that claims services relate not only to catastrophes such as last year’s floods but also to innocently injured people who deserve to be compensated.

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