Huntington Ingalls v. DOWCP, No. 21-60752 (5th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff worked at Huntington Ingalls Incorporated as a sheet-metal mechanic. After leaving the company, Plaintiff complained of hearing loss. Plaintiff selected and met with an audiologist. An administrative law judge denied Plaintiff’s Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board. The Board reversed its initial decision on whether Plaintiff could choose his own audiologist. The Company timely petitioned for review. The question is whether audiologists are “physicians” under Section 907(b) of LHWCA.
The Fifth Circuit denied the Company’s petition for review. The court reasoned that based on the education they receive and the role that they play in identifying and treating hearing disorders, audiologists can fairly be described as “skilled in the art of healing.” However, audiologists are not themselves medical doctors. Their work complements that of a medical doctor. But, the court wrote, Optometrists, despite lacking a medical degree, are able to administer and interpret vision tests. And based on the results of those tests, optometrists can prescribe the appropriate corrective lenses that someone with impaired vision can use to bolster his or her ability to see. Audiologists are similarly able to administer hearing tests, evaluate the resulting audiograms, and then use that information to fit a patient with hearing aids that are appropriately calibrated to the individual’s level of auditory impairment. Because the plain meaning of the regulation includes audiologists, and because that regulation is entitled to Chevron deference, audiologists are included in Section 907(b) of the LHWCA’s use of the word “physician.”