Worker's Knowledge of Tinnitus Prompts Statute of Limitations

23 Jun, 2022 Frank Ferreri


Cedar Rapids, IA ( – When an injury occurs over time, at what point should a worker know that his injury could be compensable?

That question was before the court in Havill v. Quaker Oats Company, No. 21-1740 (Iowa Ct. App. 06/15/22), which had to determine just exactly when a worker knew he had the cumulative injury of hearing loss.

A worker for Quaker Oats, who had been with the company for 35 years, applied for workers’ compensation in June 2019, alleging hearing loss from noise exposure. He characterized the injury as tinnitus, marked by a constant sound of cicadas or crickets in his left ear.

Quaker responded that the worker’s claim was barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations. A deputy workers’ compensation commissioner agreed with Quaker, and, on appeal, a commissioner upheld the deputy’s decision.

According to the rulings that went against the worker, the worker knew or should have know by the fall of 2016 about this condition and the seriousness of it. The worker took the case to court, and the court also agreed that his claim was barred. In turn, the worker appealed to the next level in court.

In Iowa, for cumulative injuries, such as hearing loss, the statute of limitations period does not begin until an employee, acting as a reasonable person, recognizes the nature seriousness, and probable compensable character of the injury at issue.

The appeals court upheld the lower decision, finding evidence that showed the worker experienced a worsening of his condition in late 2016 and early 2017. The evidence included “incidents and diagnoses” as well as the fact that the worker sought care for his ears following “earlier recommendations to do so.”

Although the worker argued that he was not aware that his condition was serious enough to have a permanent adverse impact on his employability until later, the appeals court disagreed.

“On Feb. 10, 2017, a provider summarized [the worker’s] complaint of ‘constant buzzing’ for ‘4 days … straight, diagnosed him with ‘[t]innitus’ and ‘[s]ensorineural hearing loss,’ and recommended a hearing aid an MRI,” the appeals court wrote.

Thus, the appeals court affirmed the decisions that determined that the worker’s claim for benefits was time-barred.

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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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