On 1 September 2012 Chris Goldscheider’s hearing was irreversibly damaged. Mr Goldscheider was an extremely talented voila player who, during rehearsal for Wagner’s ‘Die Walkure’, was seated directly in front of the brass section of the orchestra. The noise level during the rehearsal exceeded 130 decibels (dB): to put this into perspective this is comparable to a military jet aircraft taking off. The average human pain threshold to sound is around 110 dB.
Mr Goldscheider claimed damages against the Royal Opera House (ROH) for acoustic shock, having been left with no option but to leave the ROH in July 2014 as a result of his condition. The HSE describe acoustic shock as ‘a term used in connection with incidents involving exposure to short duration, high frequency, high intensity sounds’. Symptoms include tinnitus, hyperacusis and dizziness and make normal, everyday sounds incredibly painful.
The ROH argued that acoustic shock does not exist, and that if it did, Mr Goldscheider did not have it; instead, Mr Goldscheider had developed an entirely natural hearing condition, known as Meniere’s disease, at exactly the same time as the super-loud, high intensity noise burst behind his right ear.
However, Mrs Justice Nicola Davies disagreed in her judgement, describing ROH’s argument as “stretching the concept of coincidence too far”. In response to the ROH’s argument that the risk of damage to musicians’ hearing was an inevitable feature of playing long-term in an orchestra, Mrs Justice Nicola Davies responded that, “Such a stance is unacceptable. Musicians are entitled to the protection of the law, as is any other worker.”
Mr Goldscheider’s solicitor, Chris Fry, commented on the impact of the case, saying it “has huge significance and will send shockwaves across the music business”. Mr Fry elaborated on this statement by saying the music industry, until this point, “has considered itself exempt from the same regulatory requirements as all other sectors because of the artistic nature of its output.”
Damages for Mr Goldscheider’s injuries will be determined at a later date. His injuries have undoubtedly had a significant impact of all aspects of his life. Help Musicians UK, the leading UK charity for professional musicians, confirmed that Mr Goldscheider’s hearing loss is not an isolated incident. According to their figures (in a 2015 survey) musicians are four times more likely to suffer hearing damage, with 59.5% of musicians saying they had suffered hearing loss and, of those 59.5%, 78% said working as a musician was a contributor to their hearing loss.
In response to the judgment, the ROH recognised the “potentially far-reaching implications for the Royal Opera House and the wider music industry.” It is understood the ROH are considering appealing the judgement.
At Jackson Boyd we have experience of dealing with hearing loss cases. If you have developed a hearing loss or tinnitus as a result of an accident or exposure to loud noise then please contact us online by clicking here or speak to a member of our specialist team on 0333 222 1855 .