Willie Robertson was a faithful employee for nearly 40 years. So when he noticed that the years of exposure had caused him to lose his hearing, he thought his company would have no problem buying him some hearing aids. But Willie was wrong, not only did the company refuse to pay for hearing aids, they downright denied that Willie’s hearing loss had anything to do with is job. So Willie called the Joye Law Firm, and our workers’ compensation lawyers got Willie his hearing aids and a whole lot more.
After graduating from high school, Willie Robertson joined the Navy and served for four years. After he was honorably discharged, Willie began working for a prominent factory in North Charleston, where he was to remain employed for 39 years.
At the factory, Willie did a variety of jobs, starting as a laborer and working his way up at the plant. He initially was assigned to the factory’s paper machine area, where he cleaned up excess paper from beneath the machines. Later, he became an instrument technician, where he worked for nearly 25 years fixing equipment throughout the plant site. Willie spent his last 15 years at the factory working in the factory’s planning department, where he helped assess the repair and installation jobs within the plant.
Throughout the course of his employment, Willie was exposed to loud noises, especially when working close to machines such as hydro-pumpers and steam turbines. Willie indicated that whenever the steam valves would pop off, the noise would be so loud that it would hurt his ears even if he was wearing hearing protection.
Willie said that there was no question in his mind that his years of working in an industrial setting had caused him to lose a good bit of his hearing.
“I have always joked that you can tell who the mill workers are if you walk around the mall because they are always the men standing close together and speaking loud,” he said.
While Willie was tested for his hearing loss throughout his employment with the factory, his hearing never got bad enough where he felt that he needed hearing aids until near the end of his employment with the company. However, when his family members started complaining about his loss of hearing, he decided he needed to take action.
“I don’t think I had any idea how bad my hearing had gotten,” he said. “I think I was driving my family crazy because I kept the television turned up so loud that you couldn’t hear yourself.”
Eventually, Willie decided to purchase some hearing aids for himself. He then went to the human resources department and asked if the factory would cover the cost of his hearing aids since he had no doubt that his hearing loss was related to his work. Willie was advised that the plant would not cover the cost of his hearing aids as it claimed that he had not been exposed to any injurious noise since he had become a planner approximately 15 years before.
Willie stated, “When I saw the company doctor and told him that I wanted the plant to cover my hearing aids, he told me that the only way that would happen would be if I filed a workers’ compensation claim. He then went on to tell me that I should not do that since the lawyer would end up getting a third of any recovery. I thought to myself that he must be joking since two-thirds of something would be better than 100 percent of nothing.”
Shortly after Willie retired from the plant, he contacted Joye Law Firm attorney Ken Harrell to see if he was entitled to any benefits related to his hearing loss.
“I was immediately struck by Willie’s credibility,” said Mr. Harrell. “I told him that hearing loss cases can be difficult to pursue because of the legal issues involved, such as the statute of limitations and when the last harmful exposure occurred. However, I also told him that he had nothing to lose by pursuing the claim as he would not have to pay us any fee unless we could obtain a recovery for him.”
Mr. Harrell filed a hearing request on Willie’s behalf soon after receiving all of Willie’s medical records and a hearing was held before a workers’ compensation commissioner. To try to defeat Willie’s claim, the factory hired a doctor in Pennsylvania who reviewed Willie’s personnel file and medical records and prepared a report stating that the biggest part of any hearing loss Willie had sustained was not related to his work activities, but to such outside activities as hunting with shotguns.
“I really could not believe that guy’s report would be given any weight,” said Willie. “The doctor never examined me and I had never hunted with shotguns in my life. The last hunting I did was rabbit hunting with a rifle when I was a boy.”
After months of waiting on a decision, the Hearing Commissioner issued an Order finding that Willie was entitled to receive benefits for his hearing loss, including having the cost of any previously purchased hearing aids and any future hearing aids covered by the factory.
The factory then filed an appeal to the Workers’ Compensation Commission’s Appellate Panel. Shortly before the Appellate Panel hearing was to be held, the factory agreed to settle Willie’s hearing loss claim for $40,000.
“I was just ecstatic about the result, “said Willie. “All I ever wanted them to do was cover the cost of one pair of hearing aids for $2,000. I am so glad I decided to call the Joye Law Firm and I followed Ken’s advice to pursue the claim.”
According to Mr. Harrell, “Willie’s case is a perfect example of why I tell people who have work injury claims that they have nothing to lose by at least talking to a lawyer to see if they may be entitled to benefits. There are so many situations, like those cases involving hearing loss or people who have suffered back injuries or carpal tunnel problems due to repetitive activities, where many injured workers do not feel that they are entitled to any workers’ compensation benefits because they cannot point to a specific accident date. Clearly, our law recognizes that if you have an injury that is related to repetitive activity or long-term exposure to excessive noise, you are entitled to recover for the problems that you suffer from due to the same.”