The Royal Opera House has lost a challenge against a landmark UK ruling in the case of a viola player who suffered a life-changing hearing injury after being exposed to loud music during a rehearsal.
Christopher Goldscheider suffered “acoustic shock” in September 2012 after sitting in front of an 18-strong brass section in the orchestra pit of the Covent Garden venue while rehearsing for a performance of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle – despite wearing earplugs during much of the piece.
As a result, the 45-year-old from Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, was forced to end his professional career as a musician and his symptoms – including sensitivity to noise – mean he is unable to look for other work.
He won his legal action against the Royal Opera House Covent Garden Foundation (RoH) after a judge found the foundation was in breach of a number of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.
The foundation, which runs the venue, challenged the ruling at the Court of Appeal, arguing it was “potentially highly damaging” and could have “disturbing implications” for live music in England and Wales.
At a hearing in March, RoH lawyers said the ruling failed to distinguish between the industrial noise of a factory and “one of the greatest artistic institutions in the world, for whom ‘noise’ was a product”.
But the foundation’s appeal was rejected by three senior judges on Wednesday.
The judges dismissed fears the earlier ruling could have a chilling effect on all live music performance in the UK.
Sir Brian Leveson, sitting with Lord Justice Bean and Lord Justice McCombe, said: “I simply do not accept that this cataclysmic scenario represents a proper understanding of the consequences of this decision.”
He said the problems identified which led to Mr Goldscheider’s injury were “all foreseeable and reasonably preventable”.
The judge added: “What the case does underline is the obligation placed on venues to comply with the requirements of the legislation.
“It emphasises that the risk of injury through noise is not removed if the noise – in the form of music – is the deliberate and desired objective rather than an unwanted by-product, as would be the case in relation to pneumatic machinery.
“The national and international reputation of the RoH is not and should not be affected by this judgment.”
In March last year, Lady Justice Nicola Davies ruled in Mr Goldscheider’s favour on the issues of breach of duty and causation of injury, with damages to be assessed, following a trial.
She found there was a “clear factual and causal link” between the identified breaches of the regulations and the high level of noise which ensued at the rehearsal in the “cramped orchestra pit”.
During the earlier trial, Mr Goldscheider, whose claim for lost earnings alone is almost £750,000, said he had to give up playing or even listening to music.
His lawyers said the effects of the injury – including hypersensitivity to noise – had “seriously diminished his life in all significant respects”.
Royal Opera House lawyers previously told the court that possible precautions would involve “very significant cost for a very limited gain”.
They said that, for example, extending the orchestra pit into the auditorium would cost £1.3 million with an annual loss of £2 million in revenue, while the resulting reduction in sound levels for a viola player would be “negligible”.
- Press Association