US Court dismisses claim for hearing damage from the iPod

February 2010

Electronic equipment

In a separate case, a lawsuit that blamed Apple’s iPod music player for causing hearing loss has failed before a US federal appeals court (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) which upheld a 2008 San Francisco District Court judgment that Apple was not liable for hearing damage despite consumers being able to crank up the volume to a potentially dangerous 115 dB. The appeal argued that consumers couldn’t know what damage was done to their hearing because the device doesn’t come with a decibel meter. It was also claimed that the earbuds that come with the iPod increase the risk that damage could occur because they are designed to be placed inside the ear. In dismissing an appeal a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals called the claims “obvious” and said that a reasonable person could easily avoid hearing loss by turning the volume down – and that the iPod did come with a warning saying . The Court said “the plaintiffs do not allege the iPods failed to do anything they were designed to do nor do they allege that they, or any others, have suffered or are substantially certain to suffer inevitable hearing loss or other injury from iPod use”,  further adding “at most, the plaintiffs plead a potential risk of hearing loss not to themselves, but to other unidentified iPod users” making it clear that the plaintiffs in the case lacked the legal standing to bring the case because neither one had actually suffered hearing loss. Jeff Friedman, the attorney who argued the case for the plaintiffs, says he is disappointed with the decision and was looking at options. He said that judges didn’t address his central argument that simply putting a decibel meter on the iPod would resolve the issue. He also says that a growing body of research—some of which he presented as evidence in the case—shows that people using earbuds tend to listen to music at unsafe levels when they are in a noisy area such as an airplane. The Register made a more succinct point – the law isn’t responsible for stopping an idiot from being an idiot.

Apple not liable for ‘iPod’ hearing damage  The Times  January 1st 2010 
Birdsong et al. v. Apple Inc. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 08-18841

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