Recently, nerds were given something to grumble about when an iPod owner filed a federal lawsuit claiming that iPods cause hearing loss and are ‘inherently defective in design and are not sufficiently adorned with adequate warnings regarding the likelihood of hearing loss.’ The lawsuit seeks safety upgrades and, of course, compensation for the plaintiff’s hearing loss.
Much of the debate surrounds the fact that unlike Sony’s Walkman and other similar technology, iPods can reach 120 decibels, which is just short of causing irreparable damage.
Indeed, 120 decibels is loud. In fact, Apple agreed to limit the iPod’s output in France to 100 decibels in accordance with consumer safety laws.
But there is something to be said about personal responsibility when using a product that can present certain risks.
A lot of people have already begun to compare this to the infamous McDonalds case where an elderly woman suffered third-degree burns over 6 percent of her body when her coffee spilled on her crotch. Unlike the iPod lawsuit however, her claim was not frivolous.
As unappealing as the thought of a burned 79-year-old crotch may be, let’s examine it a little further. During the trial, which ended in an out-of-court settlement, McDonalds’ quality assurance manager testified that when serving food at 140 degrees or above there exists a burn hazard. Additionally, a scholar in thermodynamics testimony indicated that if a liquid at 180 degrees were poured on your skin you would suffer a third-degree burn in less than 10 seconds.
How hot did Mickey D’s keep its coffee at the time? Between 180 and 190 degrees. Perfect recipe for aromatic coffee and a lot of burned crotches. In fact, during the trial, documents showed record of more than 700 claims of coffee burns between 1982 and 1992.
Irrespective of any warnings of how hot the coffee was (or ‘reminders’ as McDonalds likes to call them,) it was unreasonable to expect consumers to know that the coffee would be hot enough to cause nearly instantaneous destruction of skin, flesh and muscle.
And that’s why the iPod case is different. With the iPod there is a level at which the product can be safely operated.
There is a reason why (as far as I know) no one has successfully sued an alcoholic beverage company for designing an inherently dangerous product that has led to regrettable intercourse and cirrhosis of the liver. As unfortunate as those events may be, drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation can avoid those dangers.
Likewise, iPod users exhibiting even a modicum of self-control should be able to avoid the danger of hearing loss, which only becomes a danger when, as the packaging warns, listening to the product at high volumes for extended periods.
A win for the plaintiff would represent a failure of the civil legal system and a victory for society’s most irresponsible members. Do we really want to consider the iPod a ‘dangerous’ product? Are iPod users that irresponsible? Are Americans that pussy?
At a time when plastic bags are covered in warnings, saws come with warnings not to touch the blade and people want to blame fast-food companies for making them fat, I’m not sure I can say that we are not.
When the wrong leg is amputated, that’s a problem. When cars explode on impact, that’s a problem. When an entire city gets cancer, that’s a problem.
When there exists the potentiality that in the future a man may suffer some symptoms of hearing loss possibly related to irresponsible use of an iPod, there is no problem. He’s just a pussy.