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Apple Wins Appeal Over iPod Hearing Loss Lawsuit

Over three years ago we covered Apple’s unofficial reaction to a pending class-action lawsuit regarding potential hearing damage caused by the iPod (see “iPod Update Offers Maximum Volume Setting,” 3 April 2006). The case, Birdsong et al. v. Apple Inc., has recently been reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The review affirmed an earlier appeal court’s 2008 decision to reject the suit and relieve Apple of responsibility for any possible hearing loss caused by using an iPod.

The plaintiffs, Joseph Birdsong and Bruce Waggoner, had claimed the design of Apple’s earbuds – intended to sit deeper in the ear canal than traditional headphones that rest on the outer ear – combined with a lack of volume meters or noise-isolating capabilities, posed serious risks to a user’s hearing. The court disagreed, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to show the iPod is dangerous, or that they had endured any serious hearing damage.

Judge David Thompson wrote in his opinion, “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… At most, the plaintiffs plead a potential risk of hearing loss not to themselves, but to other unidentified iPod users.”

Birdsong and Waggoner had sought for Apple to provide them with financial compensation, research on hearing damage in iPod users, overall improved safety of the iPod, and redesigned headphones.

Apple did in fact respond to the concern back in 2006 by releasing a software update to the iPod that enabled users to set a maximum volume for the device and by publishing a set of guidelines regarding iPods and sound levels.

In the end, if the music is too loud, just turn it down.

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