Patterson Files Lawsuit against Apple, Blames iPod Design Flaws for Hearing Loss

by Darcy Richardson Feb 10, 2006

John Kiel Patterson of Louisiana recently filed a class action lawsuit against Apple Computers on Jan. 31, 2006 at the U.S. District Court in San Jose, CA, because he claims that the iPod has potential to cause irreparable hearing loss. Steve W. Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, LLP, is Patterson’s attorney. The firm is one of two that filed the iPod nano scratching suit.

U.S. District Court documents state that although Patterson does not know if the device has damaged his hearing, the lawsuit takes issue with the defects in design of the iPod and the lack of warning labels that can lead to hearing loss.

“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.”

The Associated Press reports Apple has sold more than 42 million iPods since they appeared on the market in 2001, including 14 million alone in the last three months of 2005. Patterson’s complaint says that the iPod players “are inherently defective in design and are not sufficiently adorned with adequate warnings regarding the likelihood of hearing loss.”

The iPod can produce decibels of sound greater than 115, and Patterson complains that there are not enough warning labels on the device that state the potential for hearing loss when the players are utilized at high decibel levels. Apple Computers, based in Cupertino, does ship a warning with each iPod that cautions “permanent hearing loss may occur if earphones or headphones are used at high volume.”

Patterson’s complaint also places blame on ear buds, noting that they can cause hearing loss as they “do not dilute the sound entering the ear and are closer to the ear canal than other sound sources,” according to the Associated Press.

Patterson is asking for upgrades that will make the players safer, including a cap of 100 decibels for player sound. The suit, filed on behalf of John Kiel Patterson and all other iPod buyers, seeks monetary damages to compensate for the hearing loss suffered by iPod users, as well as a share of Apple’s iPod profits, according to

A recent WebMD article ( titled, “MP3s May Threaten Hearing Loss,” says that iPods easily desensitize the user to dangerously high sound levels. A CD player and a Walkman also have those effects, but MP3 players such as the iPod pose an additional danger. iPods hold thousands of songs, and they can play for hours without recharging. Therefore, users tend to listen continuously for hours at a time. They do not even have to stop to change a CD or a tape. “Every time you increase a sound level by three decibels, listening for half as long will produce the same amount of hearing loss,” says Brian Fligor, ScD, of Children’s Hospital in Boston.

And if advice from doctors is not sufficient, rockers such as Pete Townshend have posted personal pleas on their websites to entice people to turn down the volume on their headsets. “My own particular kind of damage was caused by using earphones in the recording studio,” Townshend said. “The point I’m making is that it is not live sound that causes hearing damage.  Earphones do the most damage.”

Apple was forced to pull the iPod from store shelves in France and upgrade software on the device to limit sound to 100 decibels, but the company has not followed suit in the United States. 

Hearing advocates are pressing for people to turn down the volume, according to an article posted on The rule of thumb suggested by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital is to hold the volume of a music player no higher than 60 percent of the maximum, and use it for only about an hour a day.

The National Hearing Conservation Association also recommends that parents try to find audio gear for their kids that have volume-limiting devices built-in.

The problem with iPods do not necessarily stem from design error, but from users utilizing the players at high decibels of sound.


  • Um, so you’re saying if something loud gets near my earhole, for a few hours, I might have hearing loss? This is big, and someone must be stopped. All these years I thought my mom was telling wive’s tales…

    toadkicker had this to say on Feb 10, 2006 Posts: 10
  • I think I should sue Sony also for the first Walkman I bought 20 years ago. And AIWA and all the rest for all of the portable CD players being sold currently with ear bud type headphones. Why is it just Apple?

    I believe if you are playing an iPod or any other so loud to hear it, then your hearing was damaged prior to putting those ear buds in ones ears. I’m a music producer and have been in recording studios my whole life. With headphones. I own each one of the iPods Apple manufactures and neverr have to turn it up so load it hurts! And I ride the NYC subways listening to my iPod.

    More bogus lawyers looking for out of court settlements.

    mozart11 had this to say on Feb 10, 2006 Posts: 35
  • Can we sue universities nationwide for creating greedy lawyers that annoy to no end? Someone should think about it, you might hit it big. Or better, go out, buy a gun and some ammo, and then sue the producers for not labeling each and every bullet with “improper use may cause severe harm”. Gawd, this stuff is so annoying! I’m so sick of people trying to cash in on the seemingly god-given right of the US-Citizen to be a totally irresponsible dimwit. It’s not that there are no serious issues out there.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Feb 10, 2006 Posts: 371
  • The next thing you know is people will sue the DMV because they handed out a license that allows people to drive 2-ton killing machines (i.e., cars). I can see it now: “But officer! There was nothing in the manual that came with the car that said I’d get injured if I drank a quart of whiskey and drove into a tree! I’m gonna sue the SOB’s that made the car AND the DMV for letting me drive AND the whiskey makers for getting me drunk!”

    Did someone force these people to listen at rediculous volumes? Where’s the judge to dismiss these cases outright? While they’re at it, that judge should charge the plaintiffs for filing frivolous lawsuits.

    AdamS4 had this to say on Feb 10, 2006 Posts: 1
  • It is a very serious problem, which many young people disregard in the same way as getting told too much TV will turn your eyes square.

    I don’t believe the iPod volume should be restricted, because it still has a lot of genuine uses, such as with docking stereos. I also like the ability to occasionally turn the volume up full blast for a during a brief moment of euphoria.

    This is a ridiculous lawsuit, but I do commend the fact that just because of that, this issue is getting spread around news sites so fervently.

    Your hearing is important. It’s not something you want to lose.

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Feb 10, 2006 Posts: 299
  • Every iPod you buy withing the European Union has a cap. USA models can go louder.

    115 dB is about the sound volume of a jet fighter firing up its engines at 30 metres distance, try to bear that for 2 hours on end.

    Most of the laws in the USA (as in the UK I’m told) seem to be made in courts, so aside of the greedy lawyers, I guess this lawsuit is a way to get some legislation on sound levels. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing.

    Martijn ten Napel had this to say on Feb 14, 2006 Posts: 6
  • If an iPod can hurt your ears if you listen to it to loud then don’t listen to it that loud. If your kid is going deaf then it is your responsibility to stop them from listening to it that loud I think people need to start taking responsibility for there on actins and stop blaming others.

    frank schwartz had this to say on Apr 09, 2006 Posts: 1
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