The Iowa Court of Appeals Elaborates on the Standard for Assessing Permanent Disability in Cases of Mixed Hearing Loss and Tinnitus

by | Jun 10, 2013

In PMX Industries v. Reich, the Court of Appeals of Iowa was faced with the issue of how to assess permanent disability when a Claimant had simultaneously incurred both a scheduled member hearing loss and a separate diagnosis of tinnitus. Typically, tinnitus is measured as a body as a whole injury “because tinnitus does not cause a person to be unable to hear, instead tinnitus causes a person to perceive sounds that do not exist.” Miller v. Lauridsen Foods, Inc.,525 N.W. 2d 417 (Iowa 1994). The court noted that hearing loss, on the other hand, is measured as a scheduled member injury and assessment of the same, standing alone, is limited to the weeks payable when measured against the permanent impairment rating. In PMX Industries, the employer argued that the effect of the scheduled member hearing loss should not be considered when addressing the industrial disability incurred by the Claimant as a result of the tinnitus. Rejecting this, the appellate court noted that when an employee suffers both scheduled and unscheduled injuries and the injuries developed over the same period of time and share the same cause, there is no error in the Commissioner combining the two conditions as one industrial disability. Accordingly, employers should be aware that when an employee complains of auditory issues, the proper examination at the time of complaint should investigate both hearing loss andpotential tinnitus. The purpose of the same would be to document that at the time of injury, only one condition existed. Therefore, if only hearing loss is found at the time of initial injury, but the Claimant subsequently develops tinnitus, the employer would have a strong argument that the effects of the scheduled member hearing loss was not “of the same period of time and share the same cause” and the two injuries could not be analyzed together for an increased industrial disability. For any questions regarding investigation and defense of hearing loss and/or tinnitus claims, please contact Iowa workers’ compensation attorney Paul Barta at (402) 475-1075 or at