Child's ear 'torn apart' by Apple AirPods playing alert too loud - lawsuit

Apple AirPods Pro
Punitive damages are being sought after the 12-year-old was left permanently impacted. Photo credit: Supplied / Apple

A lawsuit filed against Apple this week alleges the US tech giant's AirPods caused a child's eardrum to be 'torn apart' because of the volume of alerts.

Carlos Gordoa and Ariani Reyes filed the suit in the United States District Court in the Northern District of California on behalf of their son, BG.

"On May 17, 2020 BG was watching Netflix on his iPhone connected to the AirPods at low volume when an Amber Alert went off suddenly, and without warning, at a volume that tore apart BG's ear drum, damaged his cochlea and caused significant injuries to BG's hearing," the lawsuit states.

"Further, as a result of the damage to his right ear, BG has suffered from bouts of dizziness, vertigo and nausea."

That left the 12-year-old with sudden and permanent hearing loss in his right ear, as well as both significant injuries, pain and suffering.

"The severe hearing loss in BG's right ear continues to persist," the suit continues.

"BG will require consistent clinical follow-up visits, testing and monitoring and must use a hearing aid for the rest of his life. BG has also battled through tinnitus since the incident."

According to the lawsuit, the AirPods do not automatically reduce, control or limit alert volumes to a safe level and therefore pose an unreasonable or serious risk for wearers.

The Cupertino-based company was also aware of the problem, according to BG's parents, who say the trauma suffered is a "direct and proximate result" of Apple's alleged negligence.

The suit asks the court to award "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".

The US Centre for Disease Control says noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage  hearing, while loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate harm.

There was no approximation of the volume of the alert, but social media posts as old as three years ago had indicated others had suffered from hearing problems after getting alerts through their AirPods.

"I just experienced my first case of an emergency weather alert while wearing my AirPods - the alert sound comes through the headphones MUCH louder than I would have guessed the maximum possible volume to be, regardless of what volume level you have them set to," one wrote on Reddit.

"Why would they even make the AirPods capable of outputting such an ear-damaging volume, let alone force emergency alerts to be played that loud?"

Alerts can be turned off in the Notifications section of Settings in the iPhone and are turned on by default.