Tinnitus and hearing loss injuries can be caused by exposure to extreme noise levels and physical trauma.
On this page, our lawyers look at personal injury claims involving hearing loss and tinnitus and how much of a settlement compensation payout you might expect for your injuries.
Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of an external auditory stimulus. In other words, you are hearing sounds that are not there. Typically it presents as ringing in the ears. Tinnitus may be anything from a soft whistle to a loud whine.
The ringing or sound may either be intermittent or continual. Tinnitus also causes loss of effective hearing.
Hidden Hearing Loss
Tinnitus is often called a "hidden hearing loss" because it is not always detected by conventional hearing tests. Frustrating, victims are often told their hearing is just fine.
But the suffering is very real. Often, the problem is exposure to loud noises damages the brain's ability to listen selectively and decode words. Our lawyers get calls every day from veterans and active-duty military personnel who were exposed to loud noises in combat.Challenges Tinnitus Brings
While many learn to ignore and compensate for phantom sounds, tinnitus impacts the quality of life. Tinnitus is associated with sleeping disorders, depression, and anxiety. It may affect concentration and the ability for attentional focusing and working memory and is a condition difficult to treat.
The time a patient struggles with tinnitus can vary from a few days to a lifetime. Hearing and labyrinthine dysfunction sometimes travel with tinnitus. This is a particularly common consequence of head injuries due to damage to the auditory nerve, the cochlea, or the middle ear conducting.
For some, noise-canceling headphones and cognitive behavioral therapy help with some of the pain and suffering from tinnitus. But for some, treatment has little or no effect.
Tinnitus Assessment is performed using a variety of test signals from pure tones to narrowband and white noises.
Typically an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) is the type of physician who diagnoses and treats tinnitus. ENTs (formerly known as otolaryngologists) specialize in medical conditions involving or relating to the ears, noses/sinuses, mouth, and throat. Some ENTs focus specifically on the ears and treatment of hearing problems, such as tinnitus.
The most common cause of tinnitus is excessive high-level noise exposure. Employees who work in construction, production lines, automobile assembly lines, and the military are at risk.
Military and police thought they had the problem covered with acoustic earmuffs in their training programs in firing chambers to avoid that noise exposure. But it turns out that some of these noise blockers were defectively built with a design flaw which has led to several Tinnitus-related lawsuits involving the Combat Arms Ear Plugs.
Tinnitus can also be caused by random noise exposures like a siren, railroad engine whistle, motorcycles, loud equipment, and firearms. Victims of traumatic brain injuries, even mild TBIs, are also at great risk for tinnitus.
There are also cases of late-onset of tinnitus that have confused healthcare providers. The working theory is that tinnitus in these cases is secondary to the muscular postures patients may utilize to avoid neck pain after whiplash or other neck injury, usually after a motor vehicle accident.
Approximately 15% of individuals with a history of whiplash develop tinnitus and one or more of the following symptoms: vertigo, headache, instability, nausea, and hearing loss. It doesn't take a major impact to get tinnitus as a result of a car accident. You do not even need any contact with the head. The mechanical shearing of the head back can impact the inner ear and cause tinnitus.
The inner hair cells are analogous to vertical spaghetti stalks. They are fragile and if you shear your hand through those stalks, they can fragment into all different layers.
Tinnitus is usually caused by exposure to high noise levels which damages the inner ear. However, certain types of head and brain injuries can sometimes cause hearing loss and tinnitus.
You can sue for getting tinnitus if your injury was caused by the negligence of another person. This commonly occurs in car crash cases where the property damage is significant.
To prove your case, you need a medical doctor who can link your tinnitus to the defendant's negligence.
Most personal injury claims for tinnitus arise in car accident cases. The is no payout calculator where you can punch in your injuries and get a settlement amount. But the average settlement compensation payout range for tinnitus or hearing loss claims in an auto tort case seems to be $50,000 to $250,000.
The average value of a tinnitus or hearing loss claim in a product liability (like the Combat Arms litigation we talked about above), premises liability, or malpractice case will likely be higher. Expect workers' comp settlement payouts to generally be lower. (Of course, a VA or other disability claim will usually be much less.)
Below are recent verdicts and reported settlements for auto tort cases in which the primary injury was tinnitus or hearing loss.
- Beal v. 3M (Florida (2022) $77 Million: This is a 3M earplug verdict, the largest in the litigation. Mr. Beal suffered hearing loss and tinnitus due to defective 3M earplugs. A jury returned an award payout of $77.5 million. Yes, $72.5 was in punitive damages but that is still a $5 compensation award.
- S.M., Pro Ami v Viola (New York 2020) $250,000: A 21-month-old pedestrian was struck. She suffered a skull fracture. The girl was left with pneumocephalus and conductive hearing loss. She required a cartilage graft and a PORP prosthesis. The girl’s mother alleged that the at-fault driver’s negligence was the proximate cause of her injuries. She claimed he failed to control the vehicle and yield to a pedestrian. The defense denied liability. This case settled out-of-court for $250,000.
- Luoma v State Farm (Washington 2020) $126,025: A 60-year-old man was T-boned. He suffered a brain injury and rib pain. The man developed post-concussion syndrome, tinnitus, short-term memory problems, executive functioning issues, nausea, and headaches. He settled with the liability insurer for $25,000. The man then filed a UIM claim against State Farm. A jury awarded him $101,025.
- Ziebol v. Roberts (Minnesota 2020) $173,504: A man was rear-ended. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, tinnitus, and a neck injury. He underwent neck surgery and developed headaches, cognitive impairments, dizziness, and a balance disorder. The man alleged that the at-fault driver’s negligence caused his permanent injuries. He claimed he negligently fell asleep while driving. A jury awarded the man $173,504.
- Somers v Genis (Pennsylvania 2020) $50,000: A passenger was struck head-on. She suffered bilateral tinnitus and other injuries. She also developed recurring headaches and vertigo. Her lawsuit alleged that the at-fault driver failed to pay attention to the road. She was awarded $50,000 (another example of why you should be wary of arbitration).
- Meinheit v Jersey Central Power & Light (New Jersey 2019) $1,032,000: A 38-year-old man made contact with exposed ground wire. He was electrocuted and went into cardiac arrest. The man lacked a heartbeat for ten minutes. He remained comatose for three days. He suffered significant brain damage. He developed memory problems, significant headaches, visual impairments, bilateral hearing loss and tinnitus, chronic trunk and extremity tingling, right-sided weakness, and depression. His lawsuit alleged that the electric company’s negligence caused his injuries. They claimed it failed to maintain safe premises, place warning signs or barricades, and regularly inspect and maintain its power lines. The defense denied liability and argued, with some success, the plaintiff's negligence caused his injury. The jury found the electric company 60 percent liable and the man 40 percent liable. They awarded $1,032,000.
- Livesey v Skidds (Nevada 2019) $10,000,000: A 21-year-old woman was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer. She suffered a shearing brain injury and multilevel disc protrusions with radiculopathy. The woman developed partial hearing loss, memory problems, and cognitive impairments. She underwent three internal fixation procedures. The woman alleged that the truck driver’s negligence caused her injuries. She claimed he tailgated her, failed to slow down, and failed to maintain an appropriate lookout. The defense denied liability. The jury ruled in the woman’s favor. They awarded her $10,000,000.
- Salgado v Quigg Bros, Inc. (Washington 2019) $1,800,000: A 55-year-old woman proceeded through a green light. She was T-boned. The woman suffered a left femur fracture, a left radial head fracture, a dislocated right ankle, and scalp and left arm lacerations. She also developed bilateral hearing loss. The woman alleged that the at-fault driver’s negligence caused permanent injuries. She claimed he failed to yield the right-of-way and made a negligent left turn. This case settled for $1,800,000.
- Fedele v. Liberty Mutual (Wisconsin 2019) $416,646: A 79-year-old man was rear-ended by an underinsured driver. He suffered whiplash, a concussion, and soft-tissue neck and shoulder injuries. The man developed post-traumatic headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, and blurry vision. He alleged that the underinsured driver’s negligence caused these injuries. The man also made a UIM claim against Liberty Mutual. A jury awarded him $416,646.
- Howell v. Smith (Washington 2019) $350,000: A cyclist was struck and ejected onto the street. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, a neck fracture, a skull contusion, a right pectoralis injury, a sternoclavicular joint strain, and soft-tissue rib, ankle, elbow, and knee injuries. The man developed tinnitus, vertigo, cognitive loss, concentration difficulties, and memory loss. He alleged that the at-fault driver’s negligence caused permanent injuries. The man claimed she failed to maintain a proper lookout. This case settled for $350,000.
- Zankl v. Gaedtke (Wisconsin 2019) $200,000: A 50-year-old man was rear-ended. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, neck spasms, right-hand numbness, and polyarthralgia. The man was left with tinnitus, hypothalamic dysfunction, cognitive problems, erectile dysfunction, a sleep disorder, mood swings, and headaches. He alleged that the at-fault driver’s negligence caused his injuries by driving while intoxicated and running a stop sign. He also made an underinsured motorist against Auto-Owners Insurance. Both defendants disputed the injury claims. The jury awarded $200,000.
- Gabbert v Caldwell (Texas 2018) $361,700: A home health nurse in her early 30s is driving home from work when she gets rear-ended by the defendant's vehicle at an intersection. She incurs over $20k in medical expenses in connection with the accident and alleges that she now requires hearing aids to compensate for permanent tinnitus resulting from the collision. She rejects a settlement offer from Allstate for $20,000 and after a two-day trial the jury awards damages totaling $361,700 which includes $20,700 for past medical expenses and $25,000 for the future cost of her hearing aids.
- Lang v Thornton (Washington 2018) $50,000: A 49-year-old nursing student is injured in a T-bone accident caused by the defendant. Plaintiff claims that the accident caused damage to her ear resulting in permanent tinnitus. A tinnitus car accident settlement was reached for $50,000 which was the available policy limit in the case.
- Valente v Toler (Washington, D.C 2018) $143,500: A taxi was struck. Its passenger suffered head, neck, and back injuries. The man also sustained a concussion, tinnitus, bilateral hearing loss, headaches, and memory impairments. He alleged that the at-fault driver’s negligence caused his injuries. The man claimed she failed to yield the right-of-way, ran a red light, failed to timely brake, and excessively sped. The at-fault driver denied running a red light. A jury ruled in the man’s favor. They awarded him $143,500.
- Smith v Padgett (Florida 2018) $190,442: A man was struck by a dump truck. He suffered Eustachian tube dysfunction, neck strains and sprains, a head contusion, a foot laceration, and a hematoma. The man developed hearing loss. He alleged that the dump truck driver’s negligent driving caused his injuries. The jury awarded the man $190,442.
- Lee v Stearns (Washington 2018) $350,000: A retired 62-pedestrian is hit by the defendant's vehicle at an intersection in Seattle. She suffers many physical injuries including C5-6 disc herniation with cervical radiculopathy. She also claims to have developed ringing in her ears and is diagnosed with tinnitus and vertigo by an otologist. The case eventually settles for policy limits of $350,000 which includes only $34,500 in medical expenses.
- Shaw v Trunkey-King (Idaho 2017) $100,000: A nursing school student in her mid-20s is driving her daughter to daycare when she gets t-boned by the defendant at a 4-way intersection. She claims that the accident leaves her with permanent tinnitus in her left ear which delays her graduation from nursing school. Case settles for policy limits of $100,000.
- Halverson v Brown (Oregon 2017) $100,000: The plaintiff is riding his bicycle through a busy intersection in Portland. He proceeds through the intersection at the crosswalk when the light turns green and the defendant fails to yield and hits him. Plaintiff gets thrown onto the windshield of the defendant's vehicle and suffers facial and head injuries. Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that he suffered permanent tinnitus as a result of the accident. The initial settlement demand is $170,000 and the case ultimately settles for $100,000.
You can only get a partial disability rating of 20% or less for tinnitus and hearing loss injuries. You can get a higher percentage rating if your condition is so severe that it prevents you from working certain jobs.
If you have suffered tinnitus or hearing loss as a result of an accident the personal injury attorneys at Miller & Zois can help you get financial compensation. Call us today at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.