Deafened viola player is compensated

Posted: 20th April 2018

OrchestraEmployers are under a duty to protect their staff against hazards, including noise.

In an unusual case on this topic, an opera house viola player whose hearing was irreparably damaged during a three-hour rehearsal of Wagner’s Ring Cycle has been compensated.

The musician, Christopher Goldscheider, was sitting directly in front of the brass section during rehearsals at the Royal Opera House and suffered acoustic shock. He was stricken by tinnitus in one ear and his hearing was so badly affected that he was unable to return to his musical career.

The 45 year old's lawyers launched proceedings against the opera house alleging, amongst other things, breaches of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

In resisting the claim, the Royal Opera House pointed out that the noise created by a professional orchestra is the product, not the by-product, of its activities.

It was submitted that all reasonably practicable steps had been taken to protect Mr Goldscheider's  hearing and that a ruling in his favour would have a chilling effect on the opera house’s socially desirable activities.

In upholding Mr Goldscheider's claim, however, the High Court noted that the noise of the brass section had been described as unbearably loud by another viola player. There had been no adequate risk assessment and no attempt had been made to monitor noise levels in the cramped orchestra pit. The opera house had received previous complaints about excessive noise levels but had not instructed him to wear the ear plugs with which he had been provided throughout the rehearsal.

The Court accepted that Mr Goldscheider should have left the orchestra pit when the noise levels began to cause him discomfort. However, by then, the damage caused by acoustic shock would already have been done. The amount of the musician’s compensation remained to be assessed, but was bound to be substantial given the impact of hearing loss on his musical career.