Patient sues ENT; claims he overlooked warning sign of acoustic neuroma

CHARLESTON, WV—While the $9 million suit against Justin Bieber for allegedly causing a woman to lose her hearing is getting a lot more attention (see this week’s Hearing View), a much less publicized case in West Virginia may have more serious implications for hearing care providers and consumers alike.

As reported in The West Virginia Record, a legal journal, Daniel Rainey and his wife, Lori, brought suit last month in Kanawha Circuit Court against his otolaryngologist, Charles D. Crigger, MD. Rainey, who first went to Crigger with hearing loss complaints in January 2008, charges that the physician failed to adequately investigate the cause of a unilateral hearing loss (in his left ear) that was revealed by a series of audiograms

Unilateral hearing loss is one of the “red flags” enumerated in the U.S. Food & Drug Administration Hearing Aid Rule. When any such warning signs are observed, the FDA requires that the patient be referred to a physician to determine if medical treatment is called for.

In this case, Rainey states that more than two years after Crigger first examined him, he lost all hearing in his left ear. He underwent an MRI, which showed that he had a large acoustic neuroma.

 The neuroma was surgically removed, but, according to the suit, because of the size of the tumor and the nature of the surgery, Rainey was left with permanent damage, including no hearing in his left ear, visible facial drop, and cognitive defects.

The plaintiffs contend that had Crigger investigated the cause of the asymmetrical hearing loss as he should have, a timely referral could have been made and the neuroma could have been treated without causing Rainey permanent damage
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All practitioners who dispense hearing aids in the United States must comply with the FDA Hearing Aid Rule. Under that, they are required to know and be alert to the “red flags” listed in the rule, and they must refer patients who exhibit any of these warning signals to a physician.