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Lawyers clash with insurers over deafness claims

Personal injury lawyers have hit back at insurance industry claims that industrial deafness is the “new whiplash”.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) issued a report on 16 June, which it said showed that insurers had seen opportunistic claims for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), also known as industrial deafness, significantly increase in recent years.

The ABI said that since 2012, more than 200,000 claims for NIHL have been submitted but fewer than a fifth have been eligible for compensation. It said this was “mainly due to the poor quality of evidence provided because the claimant’s hearing loss cannot be linked to the workplace.”

James Dalton, the ABI’s director of general insurance policy, said: “Thousands of people who worked in noisy environments in the 1960s and ’70s without the right protection were rightly compensated in the decades which followed. These claims naturally tailed off following the introduction of better health and safety measures across British industry.”

He said the recent surge in cases could “only be a result” of lawyers and claims management firms spotting the potential for earnings from deafness claims after a reduction in those for whiplash, “irrespective of whether the claims they put forward are genuine.”

But Bridget Collier, a senior litigator with the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said: “The insurance industry seems completely unable to accept that a higher number of industrial deafness claims is simply that. Instead, insurers are crying out that there must be an injustice (to them) and reforms must be made to stop their profits from dwindling.

“The suggestion that lawyers’ fees are out of proportion to the work done on these cases is a total disregard of the complexities of these claims.

“The Association of British Insurers says that many claims are fraudulent. How likely is this, given it is extremely difficult to fake an audiogram test and no claimant solicitor wants to run or can afford to run a case that is not likely to succeed let alone where the claimant appears untrustworthy?

“Even if a claim fails, it does not mean that there wasn’t good reason for seeking legal advice. As I said, these claims are complicated. Trying to prove exposure to noise from years ago is not an easy task.

“The insurers need to shoulder the responsibility that they took on when they were paid handsomely by employers for the risk of these claims. The risk of industrial deafness is as real today as ever before.”