Case Name: William A. Hart v. Matson Terminals, Inc., et al.
Date Decided: December 29, 2009
Court: United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
Judge: Judge Fletcher, Judge Thomas, Judge Smith
Citation: 2009 WL 5196060 (C.A.9)Background:
William Hart, brought an action under the LHWCA, Longshore Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, for hearing loss sustained while working for employer, defendant, Matson Terminals, Inc. Before this Court is Hart's appeal of a decision made by the Benefits Review Board, BRB, affirming the order of an Administrative Law Judge awarding benefits for his hearing loss under the LHWCA.
Did this Court affirm the BRB's decision to affirm the ALJ's finding that a 1996 audiogram was the best measure of Hart's work-related hearing loss?
Hart contended that the ALJ erred in finding that the 1996 audiogram (ear exam) was the best measure of his work-related hearing loss, but not the two audiograms performed after Hart's retirement.
The ALJ found that the audiograms after Hart's employment did not suggest significantly increased hearing loss following his termination. The ALJ credited doctor's testimony that hearing loss becomes more subtle after extended exposure to noise and that once Hart was removed from his noisy environment, further loss was not due to earlier exposure.
Under the LHWCA, an audiogram can be found to be presumptive evidence, and the LHWCA further allows the ALJ to determine what evidence is most probative in determining benefits. Accordingly, based upon the evidence presented before the ALJ, this Court found that there was no clear error made by the ALJ in finding that the 1996 audiogram was the most reliable measure of Hart's hearing loss.
This case illustrates the deference given to the Administrative Law Judge's findings in an employee benefits claim. After examining evidence, the ALJ will submit it's findings of fact to the Benefits Review Board, BRB, which then makes a ruling on the benefits owed, or not owed, to the employee. The employee or employer, may then appeal the BRB's findings in light of possible error(s) made by the ALJ or the BRB.
Steve Gordon *