Vision and Hearing Loss in Personal Injury Lawsuits
While a person’s vision and hearing usually decline naturally with age, a sudden traumatic event can cause loss of vision, hearing, or both. For example, a car accident can cause a traumatic head injury that disrupts the optic nerve or breaks bones around the eye. Shattered glass from a broken windshield can cause lacerations of the cornea or eyelids. Meanwhile, someone who slips and falls may suffer a skull fracture or a perforated eardrum. Another situation in which vision loss may occur is when someone uses chemicals at work to which their eyes are exposed. Workplace activities involving explosions or loud noises may cause permanent damage to hearing as well.
Sometimes vision loss can be temporary rather than permanent. You may be able to regain your full vision following a surgery on your eye, but you may suffer from significant pain and anxiety, while accumulating costly medical bills and missing time at work. These are all damages for which you can seek compensation in a personal injury case. If you suffered vision loss on the job, you may be limited to certain benefits under workers’ compensation. However, you may be able to bring a third-party personal injury claim against someone other than your employer, such as a careless driver who hit you while you were on the job. This can increase the total amount that you receive.
In more serious situations, visual impairments can be permanent. They are classified along a spectrum that ranges from partially sighted (a minor impairment) to totally blind, which means a lack of all light perception. People who are legally blind have less than 20/200 vision in their better eye after correction with contact lenses or glasses. They are generally prevented from driving, which can have a significant impact on their finances and quality of life. People who have low vision are not legally blind, but they cannot read at a normal distance even after correction. This condition may have a less severe impact, but it still makes some jobs and activities burdensome or impossible.
Like vision loss, hearing loss can range from temporary to permanent and minor to total. A person is considered deaf if they cannot understand speech even when the sound is amplified. Profound deafness and total deafness are extreme forms of hearing loss in which a person cannot hear any sounds at all, even when they are amplified. However, there are also lesser types of hearing impairments, which involve insensitivity to sounds in the frequencies at which people speak. These can vary in degree, and impairments are classified by how much the volume needs to increase above the usual level before the person can hear speech. Some people may be able to hear speech and other noises, but their impairment may prevent them from distinguishing between these sounds.
Hearing loss has two main forms: sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss involves nerve injuries or damage to the inner ear. Conductive hearing loss results from malfunctions of the eardrum that prevent sound waves from being properly transmitted, or from damage to the bones of the inner ear. Unfortunately, while conductive hearing loss usually can be treated, sensorineural hearing loss may be permanent.
Challenges in Bringing a Claim Based on Vision or Hearing Loss
Bringing a claim based on vision or hearing loss after an accident can be complicated. Defendants, employers, or insurers may argue that the victim’s vision or hearing was already declining, and it may not be easy to separate the effect of the aging process from the effect of an injury. Furthermore, an accident can accelerate the rate at which loss of vision or hearing occurs, meaning that much of the harm may not occur immediately and thus may seem speculative. You may want to hire an attorney who can retain experts to discuss the future medical procedures and treatment that you may need, as well as the injury’s effect on your ability to earn a living and enjoy your usual activities. You may need training for a new job and assistance with everyday communication. There are very few areas of your personal or professional life that will not be affected by reduced vision or hearing.
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