Professional musician wins landmark injury claim for hearing damage

Posted Apr 05, 2018.
In a landmark case that could have significant impact on the environments that professional orchestra musicians are expected to work in, a classical viola player has won his claim for hearing damage against the Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation in London. Damages are yet to be assessed, but could well amount to £750,000. 

The musician, Christopher Goldscheider, claimed that his hearing was permanently damaged from unacceptable noise levels whilst playing in the orchestra pit at the famous Covent Garden venue. Goldscheider, from Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, claimed that he suffered ‘acoustic shock’ from a particularly loud blast from the 18-strong brass section - sat directly behind him - during rehearsals for a performance of ‘The Valkyrie’ in 2012.  The resultant noise level, at 137 decibels, would have been the equivalent of a commercial jet plane engine at 100ft.  Goldscheider’s QC, Theo Huckle, said that the effects of the injury had “seriously diminished his life in all significant respects”, including a permanent hypersensitivity to noise. The hearing damage caused has ended Goldscheider’s glittering 40 year career, to the extent that he can no longer even listen to music.

The Foundation – represented by David Platt QC – argued that Goldscheider’s condition was actually as a result of him developing Meniere’s disease at the same time, and not as a result of him playing in the orchestra. He also added that he had been provided with ear plugs and that the Foundation had one “as far and, if anything, further than the reasonable employer” to keep noise levels as low as possible. 

The judge, Mrs Justice Nicola Davies, ruled in favour of Goldscheider on the issues of causation and breach of duty of care. Compensation damages are yet to be assessed, but the loss of earnings claim alone is for £750,000. Goldscheider’s solicitor Chris Fry, writing in a blog report on the ruling, said that:

“This is the first time that the court has explored the music industry’s legal obligations towards the hearing of musicians, and the first time that acoustic shock has been recognised as a compensatable condition by the court… the decision leaves insurers for the Royal Opera House responsible for a £750,000 compensation claim, and legal costs in addition, an urgent need to rethink its policies and procedures, a possible re-design of ‘The Pit’, and probable claims against them by other musicians.”