Apple has sold more than 42 million of the devices since they went on sale in 2001, including 14 million in the fourth quarter last year. The devices can produce sounds of more than 115 decibels, a volume that can damage the hearing of a person exposed to the sound for more than 28 seconds per day, according to the complaint.
The IPod players are “inherently defective in design and are not sufficiently adorned with adequate warnings regarding the likelihood of hearing loss,” according to the complaint, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., on behalf of John Patterson of Louisiana.
The suit, which Patterson wants certified as a class-action, seeks compensation for unspecified damages and upgrades that will make IPods safer. Patterson’s suit said he bought an IPod last year, but does not specify whether he suffered hearing loss from the device.
Patterson does not know if the device has damaged his hearing, said his lawyer, Steve Berman, of Seattle. But that’s beside the point of the lawsuit, which takes issue with the potential the IPod has to cause irreparable hearing loss, Berman said.
“He’s bought a product which is not safe to use as currently sold on the market,” Berman said. “He’s paying for a product that’s defective, and the law is pretty clear that if someone sold you a defective product they have a duty to repair it.”
An Apple Computer Inc. spokeswoman, Kristin Huguet, declined to comment.
Although the IPod is more popular than other types of portable music players, its ability to cause noise-induced hearing isn’t any higher, experts said.
“We have numerous products in the marketplace that have the potential to damage hearing,” said Deanna Meinke, an audiology professor at the University of Northern Colorado. “The risk is there but the risk lies with the user and where they set the volume.”
Apple ships a warning with each IPod that cautions “permanent hearing loss may occur if earphones or headphones are used at high volume.”
The company was forced to pull the IPod from store shelves in France and upgrade software on the device to limit sound to 100 decibels, but has not followed suit in the United States, according to the complaint. The headphones commonly referred to as ear buds, which ship with the IPod, also contribute to noise-induced hearing loss because they do not dilute the sound entering the ear and are closer to the ear canal than other sound sources, the complaint states.