The teen in question, identified as “B.G.” in the complaint, is a 12-year-old boy in San Antonio, Texas, who was watching a movie on Netflix using his iPhone and AirPods “at a low volume” when an Amber Alert suddenly went off and “tore apart” his eardrum.
First reported by Street Insider, the complaint (via Law360) claims that the alert “damaged his cochlea, and caused significant injuries to B.G.’s hearing.” In addition, the youngster has reportedly suffered tinnitus and “bouts of dizziness, vertigo, and nausea.”
The teen’s parents, Carlos Gordoa and Ariani Reyes have filed a lawsuit against Apple and its AirPods manufacturing partner Luxshare, alleging that Apple is knowingly selling defective products that fail to manage volume levels properly.
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“Defendants place defective AirPods into the stream of commerce that (a) fail to automatically reduce or limit notification and/or alert volumes, (b) fail to self-adjust, gradually increase, or otherwise equalize notification and/or alert volumes, and (c) fail to include any warnings of the defect(s) described herein or fail to include inadequate warnings of the defect(s) described herein.”
The complaint is making claims for negligence, strict liability design defect, manufacturing defect, failure to warn, gross negligence, breach of implied warranty, fraud by non-disclosure, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The parents are also seeking damages for their son’s pain and suffering, disability, mental anguish, future medical expenses, and punitive damages from Apple and Luxshare.
While it’s easy for many to dismiss lawsuits like this as frivolous, in this case, it sounds like the family has a valid complaint. According to the court filing, “B.G. will require consistent clinical follow-up visits, testing, and monitoring, and must use a hearing aid for the rest of his life.”
This boy’s life has been severely altered because Apple did not provide a warning about the volume levels of its AirPods, leading to his permanent hearing loss. Had Apple designed the AirPods to self-adjust to safe levels or provided warnings about the volume increases associated with alerts, this boy would be living a normal life.Tej Paranjpe, Paranjpe Mahadass Ruemke LLP
This isn’t an isolated incident, either. The complaint includes screenshots of posts from Apple Discussions where several users have raised similar concerns.
One 2019 post asks how to adjust the notification volume on AirPods while listening to music. The original poster notes that the notification sounds are far too loud, and 1540 others have acknowledged that they have the same question.
When a notification comes through I want to rip my AirPods out, it is so loud! Sometimes I get so startled 😱 that I jump out of my skin!tarafromprovidence, Apple Discussions
The lawsuit uses this figure to allege that Apple knew about the issue at least three years ago and chose to ignore it.
“Defendants, and each of them, were aware of and knew about the design, manufacturing, or marketing defects affecting the AirPods via numerous complaints—prior to and after the occurrence made the basis of this lawsuit—by AirPod wearers about the sudden and unexpected increase(s) in sound volume during notifications or alerts that soared to dangerous, injurious levels but chose to intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly ignore the issue(s) at least 1538 times as of April 12, 2019”
Another post from 2020 complains that “AirPods Notifications are EXTREMELY LOUD” and that there appears to be no way to adjust this. No solution is provided, although several other commenters also share the opinion that it’s a design flaw.
Apple’s Emergency Alert system used for Amber Alerts is particularly egregious. These alerts come in very loud and very suddenly. For anybody who has ever experienced one, it’s not difficult to understand how this could have caused hearing damage coming through an AirPod — especially when sealed into a person’s ear, as was the case with the AirPods Pro that B.G. was wearing at the time.
The lawsuit may seem a bit over-the-top, but it’s common for lawyers to throw in every possible cause for damages in cases like these. However, this case goes beyond merely the outcome for B.G. and his parents, as it shines a light on a serious design flaw that Apple should have addressed a long time ago.
We hope this lawsuit will lead to positive changes for consumers wearing the Apple AirPods. If we can prevent this from happening to another family, then that is a step in the right direction.Robert Horn, Paranjpe Mahadass Ruemke LLP
Unfortunately, sometimes a lawsuit is the only way to make this happen. It took years of class-action lawsuits before Apple addressed its problematic butterfly keyboards, but at least that wasn’t a health and safety issue. Hopefully, this problem gets fixed more quickly.
Credit: Djomas / Shutterstock