Opinion » Cybernaut


Turn down your iPod



It was only a matter of time. Remember the McDonald’s lawsuit a few years ago when a customer spilled coffee all over themselves, then sued the restaurant because the coffee was too hot?

The same thing is apparently happening with the iPod, albeit with considerably less blistering in the crotch area.

A man by the name of John Kiel Patterson of Louisiana is suing Apple for hearing loss, claiming iPods are "inherently defective in design and are not sufficiently adorned with adequate warning regarding the likelihood of hearing loss." Patterson has registered his lawsuit as a class action, so we can probably expect to see hundreds of others claim hearing loss as a result of their listening habits.

Just like McDonald’s was sued because their coffee was too hot, iPod is being sued because their headphones are too loud – if a product can cause hearing loss, even if the customer was in control of the volume knob the whole time, apparently it’s the company’s fault.

You’re not allowed to sue the gun industry any longer because their products are too lethal, but manufacturers of consumer products are evidently fair game in the U.S. But just as handgun makers claim they don’t make guns for the purpose of murder, I seriously doubt Apple set out to make all of their customers deaf – otherwise how would Apple sell them music from the iTunes Music Store?

The case has a long way to go before it gets to trial, but I doubt Apple will want to settle out of court because every scam artist alive will turn around and sue companies like Apple, Sony and Creative for hearing loss – which is very difficult to prove either way (even Patterson is not sure if his hearing loss is complete the fault of his iPod).

As a temporary remedy, I think we can expect larger warning labels on music players and all styles of headphones warning people that prolonged exposure to loud noises can, in some cases, result in hearing loss.

Most of us were told as much when we were growing up, and the ear protectors worn by people working noisy jobs are a dead giveaway, but you can’t over-estimate common sense.

According to Consumer Reports, most music players and ear buds average a maximum volume of about 97 decibels, with 100 dB being the level where most people can damage their hearing even after a short period of time. Usually hearing comes back if it’s a one-time thing, but sometimes the damage is permanent after just one exposure. Sometimes it takes a few exposures for damage to set it.

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