Apple Facing Lawsuit Claims AirPods Ruptured Child’s Eardrum after Amber Alert

AirPods Eardrum Lawsuit

A lawsuit against Apple in California alleges that AirPods ruptured the eardrum of a 12-year-old boy in 2020 when a loud amber alert was issued.

Apple AirPods Rupture Child’s Eardrums

According to Law360, the child, identified as B.G. in the filing, was watching a movie in 2020 on Netflix using his iPhone while wearing AirPods Pro. Though the AirPods were allegedly set at a low volume, the lawsuit states an Amber Alert became active without warning, causing damage to B.G.’s eardrums due to the volume and sound of the noise.

The lawsuit claims that due to the sound of the Amber Alert, B.G.’s eardrum was “torn apart.” B.G. also took damage to his cochlea and overall hearing. The child is also suffering from bouts of dizziness, vertigo, tinnitus and nausea. There is also permanent hearing loss in the child’s right ear, requiring the use of a hearing aid.

The Cupertino company faces accusations of producing “defective” AirPods that are unable to automatically reduce the volume of alerts or equalize notifications and alert volumes. The lawsuit places Apple at fault for failing to include warnings about the potential issue. Furthermore, claims from the lawsuit state the company was aware of the alleged defects in design.

The lawsuit is attempting to seek damages for B.G. and his parents. The parents claim they are suffering from serious emotional distress due to the incident. The lawsuit is seeking “punitive damages in amounts that would punish Defendants for their conduct and which would deter other technology companies from engaging in such misconduct in the future”.

Volume and Amber Alerts

Complaints about the noise of Amber Alerts while wearing AirPods has made the rounds on social media. Typically, Amber Alerts are a means to catch the attention of iPhone owners. Devices typically play a loud sound and vibrate when an alert is active. Several threads on Reddit have also suggested the alert is extremely loud when heard through AirPods. Users note that it is even a problem when the AirPods are at a reasonable volume.

Users can turn off Amber Alerts through Settings > Notifications. Scroll to the bottom and tap on the toggle to deactivate alerts. Options are also available for turning off Emergency Alerts as well as Public Safety Alerts. However, this is not always available in all countries.

The full complaint is available on Scribd, though it is now set to private.

4 thoughts on “Apple Facing Lawsuit Claims AirPods Ruptured Child’s Eardrum after Amber Alert

  • Nick:

    As a paediatrician and parent, I sympathise with any parent who attempts to get their offspring (which extends beyond ‘childhood’) to reduce the noise level of their headsets, whether in, on or over the ear. I have, more than once, been able to hear what song one of my ‘kids’ are playing on their headsets from an adjoining room in an otherwise quiet house. Needless to say, that is too loud. 

    However, and it’s a big qualifier, there are both volume and alert safety settings, particularly on iOS devices, for controlling the noise level on headsets, which includes Airpods. Under Settings, in Sounds and Haptics, there is a selection for Headphone Safety, and it provides a safety check for both general and alert notifications. Then, in the Music app, there is the Sound Check setting, that is a control against harmful decibel levels. All can, and likely should, be enabled. 

    Were these in effect when the reported damage occurred? 

    It is a valid query to third-party check to see if these controls work as advertised, and prevent sounds from reaching immediate and short-term harmful decibel levels. If they do, then this puts the focus on parental involvement and control, with negligence being at play. 

    Furthermore, if these do work as advertised, but the government’s amber alert system somehow over-rides these controls, de jure or de facto, then the suit should be directed at the government. 

    While no one ever wants to see a child harmed, alert systems need to be able to get your immediate attention, ongoing distractions notwithstanding, particularly if survival depends upon it (Michael Lewis’ The Fifth Risk discusses the alert system and the loss of life prior to that system being rolled out). Safety measures and controls, particularly for those lacking the judgement and foresight to protect themselves, need to be under parental/legal guardian control, and to work as advertised. 

    1. I really wouldn’t be surprised if it’s possible. Those Amber Alerts are horrendously loud and obnoxious, and totally bypass volume settings. Plus, it’s a child…much more sensitive.

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