Family claim Amber Alert ruptured son's eardrums, file lawsuit against Apple

Article:
A Texas couple sued Apple this week alleging that their 12-year-old son suffered "permanent hearing loss" when his AirPods emitted an alert so loud that it tore one of his eardrums.

The boy, now 14 and identified in the lawsuit as B.G., was using his AirPods Pro with his iPhone to watch Netflix in 2020 when an Amber Alert came through, said the suit, filed Monday by Carlos Gordoa and Ariani Reyes of San Antonio.

B.G. was watching Netflix on a "low volume," the suit said, and when the Amber Alert was issued, it "went off suddenly, and without warning, at a volume that tore apart B.G.’s ear drum, damaged his cochlea, and caused significant injuries to B.G.’s hearing."


https://www.pacermonitor.com/public/case/44560022/Gordoa_et_al_v_Apple,_Inc_et_al

I did some Googling, and the maximum output physically possible for Airpods is 100-105 decibels when in the ear. So if they're playing a sound at maximum volume, the maximum decibels their eardrums could be exposed to is 100-105 decibels.

Question: Is 100-105 decibels enough to instantly rupture a person's eardrum and immediately cause permanent hearing damage as the family claims?
 
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https://globalnews.ca/news/8851556/apple-lawsuit-amber-alert-hearing-damage/

https://www.pacermonitor.com/public/case/44560022/Gordoa_et_al_v_Apple,_Inc_et_al

I did some Googling, and the maximum output physically possible for Airpods is 100-105 decibels when in the ear. So if they're playing a sound at maximum volume, the maximum decibels their eardrums could be exposed to is 100-105 decibels.

Is 100-105 decibels for a few seconds enough to rupture a person's eardrum?
not in the EU:
https://ec.europa.eu/health/scienti...yer-mp3/l-2/3-hearing-protection-limits.htm#0
3. What are current sound protection limits?

Because the risk of hearing damage from long-term sound exposure depends both on the level of the sound and on the exposure time, there is a trade-off between the two factors.

As a result, listening to loud sounds over many hours per day entails a similar risk as listening to an even louder sound for a shorter period per day. In order not to increase overall exposure, each 3 dB increase in sound levels must thus be compensated by halving the listening time.

For instance, listening to a personal music player at 95 dB(A) during 15 minutes per day is equivalent to being exposed at work to 80 dB(A) during 8 hours per day, under the assumption that these exposures are repeated over a long period of time.

Further equivalents are presented in the following table. Increasing either exposure time or sound levels beyond the above limits could lead to hearing damage. More...
Content from External Source
 
I do remember our h/w guys getting in a fuss about earpiece volumes on one of the phones I worked on, apparently it would be possible to output too high volumes to pass international standards for such hardware (I don't know the standard, but we were told this was a non-negotiable situation), so we had to restrict the settable gain levels on the audio amplifier in the kernel itself. So I did a bit more sniffing around this case, wondering if I recognised the situation that Apple finds itself in. Obviously the situation is not the same - we fixed it in the kernel before release of the product, despite a a certain ickyness at restricting access to the full capabilities of the hardware at the kernel level - to us, that was a problem that should have been solved in user-space. And it seems that Apple's problems are at least partly because of crappy userspace...

Anyway, there's no point in me not linking to the most relevant things I found about the case, just to shorten other people's googling time.

Here's the case: https://www.schmidtlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/apple-airpods-lawsuit.pdf
To be honest, there's nothing technical in that, no claims that can be addressed scientifically. It's more just a big pile of "the outcome should not have happened, therefore Apple did something wrong", for various somethings.

Despite this URL, it's not being turned into a class action case: https://www.schmidtlaw.com/airpods-class-action-lawsuit/
Why Our Law Firm is Filing Individual Lawsuits as Opposed to a Class Action

In most circumstances, a class action lawsuit is not the best way to resolve a case involving a serious injury. The problem is that hearing loss can cause a permanent disability and ongoing medical expenses.

Our law firm is filing individual lawsuits for people who were injured by Apple AirPods. We give each case our personal attention to better serve each client.
Content from External Source
Even though it's a case from 2022, it does look like it's making progress through the system this month, so there might be more to address soon. I would expect Apple to have certifications that it can present, and to be able to pay for fancy-enough expert witnesses that can support an "Apple did nothing wrong" defence with cold unfeeling numbers. This kid could just be at one end of a bell-curve, and a victim of that statistical misfortune.
 
that was the original filing but at least some of it has been dismissed by the court. here the gross negligence and fraud claims are dismissed. i havent looked into other updates.
https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/6354c39e5358106ecd0d9f1d
(additional actions: https://casetext.com/search?q=Gordoa v. Apple&sort=relevance&p=1&type=case )
[...]
Thanks for that - the first half dozen or so sites I found were all firewalled or paywalled (hence posting what I did find out after all that frustration!) - it was clear that there was plenty I wasn't being allowed access to.
 
Thanks for that - the first half dozen or so sites I found were all firewalled or paywalled (hence posting what I did find out after all that frustration!) - it was clear that there was plenty I wasn't being allowed access to.
pretty limited on my side too. mostly i figured when i saw the op is from early 2022 the trial should have been done by now. but looks like they just got (the plaintiffs) approval for more disclosure so i doubt the May trial date will be upheld. This drag out must be costing the plaintiffs a fortune!
 
According to this, sounds above 150 decibels can cause eardrum rupture https://decibelpro.app/blog/can-sound-kill-you/

If we’re talking about sounds within the human hearing frequency range (between 20 and 20,000 Hz), high-intensity sounds above 150 decibels can burst your eardrums, while sounds above 185 dB can impact your inner organs and cause death.

Or, over 100,000 times louder than a 100-105 decibel Amber Alert chime on Airpods.
 
I hope an expert can come here and explain it, but I can imagine a burst of audio (bang!) is more dangerous, as to compared to say an audio source producing say 105dB SPL. Rather tricky, for instance the airpods could have a "fluke" producing a sudden loud peak sound as to a "bang"? Somehow not easily ruled out. But "rupturing" is a little silly imo.
 
Rather tricky, for instance the airpods could have a "fluke" producing a sudden loud peak sound as to a "bang"?
or he had the volume of the air pods cranked up to the full 100 db and he had the netflix player volume down. Drives me crazy multiple volume controls [the players vs my device speakers]. Amber alerts only sound for 11 seconds even if he didnt think to pull the bud out of his ear.
 
I hope an expert can come here and explain it, but I can imagine a burst of audio (bang!) is more dangerous, as to compared to say an audio source producing say 105dB SPL. Rather tricky, for instance the airpods could have a "fluke" producing a sudden loud peak sound as to a "bang"? Somehow not easily ruled out. But "rupturing" is a little silly imo.
Phil's chart in post #2 proves the opposite.

Obviously a shockwave from an explosion or a clap on the ear can burst an eardrum, but an airpod membrane seems too small to move that much air.
 
According to this, sounds above 150 decibels can cause eardrum rupture https://decibelpro.app/blog/can-sound-kill-you/
Um. That site is promoting a sound meter app. And has a Russian Facebook link.

It maybe exaggerates the physiological risks of some types of sound, e.g.

Sounds That Can Kill You On The Spot...
...infrasound especially at 7 Hz
Content from External Source
-seems to be contradicted by
A Review of Published Research on Low Frequency Noise and its Effects, 2003, G. Leventhall, P. Pelmear and S. Benton for DEFRA (UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs). PDF attached below.

The report refers to several studies where subjects were exposed to ranges of ultrasound including 7 Hz (e.g. some studies listed on pg. 12)

Harris et al. (Harris et al., 1976) were of the opinion that the claims that infrasound adversely affects human performance, makes people "drunk" and directly elicits nystagmus, have not been clearly demonstrated in any experimental study. The effects obtained at low intensity levels of 105 to 120dB, if they can be substantiated at all, have been exaggerated. Recent well-designed studies conducted at higher intensity levels have found no adverse effects of infrasound on reaction time or human equilibrium. The levels at which infrasound becomes a hazard to man are still unknown. Previously, (Slarve and Johnson, 1975) had exposed four male subjects to infrasound ranging from 1 through 20Hz for a period of 8 minutes up to levels of 144dB. There was no objective evidence (including audiograms) of any detrimental effect of infrasound. However, all subjects experienced painless "pressure build-up" in the middle ear that was relieved by Valsalva manoeuvre or by cessation of infrasound, and voice modulation and body vibration consistently occurred. They concluded that infrasound pressures as high as 144dB are safe for healthy subjects, at least for periods of 8 minutes, and they predicted that longer periods would also be safe. Borredon (Borredon, 1972) exposed 42 young men to 7.5Hz at 130 dB for 50 minutes. This exposure caused no adverse effects. The only statistically significant change reported among the 1 This section was contributed by Dr P L Pelmear 54many parameters measured was an insignificant (< 1.5 mm Hg) increase in the minimal arterial blood pressure. However, Borredon also reported that several of his subjects felt drowsy after the infrasound exposure.
Content from External Source
 

Attachments

  • Low Freq noise Defra 2003.pdf
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Question: Is 100-105 decibels enough to instantly rupture a person's eardrum and immediately cause permanent hearing damage as the family claims?
No, it should be "is it enough to rupture a 12-year-old's eardrums?" I'd find it quite plausible that sounds that an adult can tolerate may not be similarly benign for a younger person.
 
Asked my friend, who is an audiologist, what she thinks of this case. She messaged me back with this

This is nonsense and reeks of a hoax. The SPL required to shatter an eardrum is around 160 dB, which is equivalent to the SPL of a gunshot fired close to you. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/when-using-headphones-to-listen-to-music-how-loud-it-too-loud-for-kids/ mentions that the top volume level on Apple music players is 102 dB. The volume required to cause rupture of an eardrum is almost 10,000,000,000 times louder. The photos could be of somebody else's child, or a routine hearing test. There's not a single case in the literature of eardrum ruptures happening at only 102 dB. There's no reason that Amber Alerts would be any more damaging than any other similarly loud noise. This is like claiming that a bb gun pellet tore your arm off.
 
No, it should be "is it enough to rupture a 12-year-old's eardrums?" I'd find it quite plausible that sounds that an adult can tolerate may not be similarly benign for a younger person.
Article:
L. Carney measured the sound level of crying children (3.5 months to 6 years) in two situations.[2]

At a distance of 12 inches away (6 children) to estimate the exposure of a parent soothing their child. The average sound level was 112 dBA (102–120 dbA).

I conclude that children of all ages can physiologically tolerate 120 dB(A) for a short duration.
 
my go-to intuition for this is the engine of an agricultural tractor idling, with individual cylinders firing audibly. It's hard to imagine that the frequency alone would make this more dangerous than a higher frequency at the same volume.
Many years ago I had a head injury: I was partway up a cliff when a child above me threw down a large rock. For years I felt an uncomfortable sensation that was not quite pain when a sudden noise occurred. (I became aware that sportscasters had microphones that picked up their voices preferentially when they spoke, but as soon as they stopped the roar of the crowd would feel like a sudden wall of noise hitting me. It wasn't the constant volume that was troublesome, but the sudden change. The solution to that was two separate TVs in two separate rooms so my husband could watch his beloved sports.)

This makes me wonder if the boy had suffered a previous head or ear injury, unreported by the parents, that would make him more susceptible to a sudden noise. And of course we only have their word for it that either Apple or the alert was involved at all; he may have suffered an entirely different accident in another place, while they put the blame on a company with deep pockets.
 
Are airpods capable of emitting 1000W of power? No.
(160 dB is the noise of a jet turbine. Try hearing an airpod at the distance you can still hear a plane.)
You seem to be making something similar to a square-cube error. A slap over the ear can rupture an eardum without delivering kilowatts of power at all (it's only air that's moving, mass is tiny).

Top tip: "160 dB is the noise of a jet turbine." can never be absolute truth, because it's certainly not true at a distance of light years, you've dropped at least one dimension.
 
This makes me wonder if the boy had suffered a previous head or ear injury, unreported by the parents, that would make him more susceptible to a sudden noise. And of course we only have their word for it that either Apple or the alert was involved at all; he may have suffered an entirely different accident in another place, while they put the blame on a company with deep pockets.
Agreed.
If you make a product used by millions of people over several years, I guess there's a good chance that there will be a small number of users who might experience coincidental idiopathic injury (i.e. unique to them and of uncertain origin) while using that product.

Or maybe a tiny, tiny percentage of kids have unusually vulnerable eardrums for whatever reason.
 
You seem to be making something similar to a square-cube error. A slap over the ear can rupture an eardum without delivering kilowatts of power at all (it's only air that's moving, mass is tiny).
Article:
For a sound source, unlike sound pressure, sound power is neither room-dependent nor distance-dependent. Sound pressure is a property of the field at a point in space, while sound power is a property of a sound source, equal to the total power emitted by that source in all directions.
SmartSelect_20240510-071306_Samsung Internet.jpg


I don't think the "slap on the ear" is a sound phenomenon.
 
I don't think the "slap on the ear" is a sound phenomenon.
Ear experts do:
McGovern Medical School
Department of
Otorhinolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery

Hole in the Ear Drum Discussion

During the summer the Ear doctor will see several people with a perforation in the ear drum after a diving injury. Usually the person hits the side of the head on the water causing a rupture of the ear drum. Slap injuries (“cuffing the ears”) can also cause rupture of the ear drum.
Content from External Source
https://med.uth.edu/orl/online-ear-...the-ear-drum/hole-in-the-ear-drum-discussion/
 
Usually the person hits the side of the head on the water causing a rupture of the ear drum.
In what way is sound (mechanical radiant energy that is transmitted by longitudinal pressure waves in a material medium) involved here?
 
In what way is sound (mechanical radiant energy that is transmitted by longitudinal pressure waves in a material medium) involved here?
It's a longitudinal pressure wave in a material medium. I think you've answered your own question here.
 
If you're musing what could have caused the injury if it wasn't the airpods, here's a list:
Article:
Things that can cause perforated eardrums include:
  • Cotton swabs or other cleaning tools. These can poke through the eardrum.
  • Sudden pressure changes (barotraumas). This might happen when flying in an airplane, driving on a mountain road, or scuba diving.
  • Loud noises (acoustic trauma). Really loud noises, like an explosion or listening to loud music, can make sound waves that are strong enough to damage the eardrum. Loud noise also can cause temporary or permanent damage to the cochlea.
  • Head trauma. A direct blow to the ear or a severe head injury from something like a car accident can fracture (break) the skull bone and tear the eardrum.
  • Direct trauma to the pinna and outer ear canal. A slap on the ear with an open hand or other things that put pressure on the ear can tear the eardrum.
  • Ear infections. An infection of the middle ear or inner ear can cause pus or fluid to build up behind the eardrum. This can make the eardrum burst.

For example, hypothetically, if there was an undiscovered ear infection putting pressure on the eardrum, maybe a loud noise (that would otherwise be harmless) could have triggered the rupture.

@FatPhil "Slap" is listed as "direct trauma", not "acoustic trauma".
 
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Seems like it would be fairly easy to prove or disprove the teenager's claim.

Get a sound level meter, and put it right up against an Airpod playing on max volume. If it's 160 dB (the sound intensity required to rupture eardrums) or close, then the teenager's claim is plausible. If it's nowhere near 160 dB, then the teenager's claim is questionable.

Unfortunately, I have neither a sound level meter or Airpods.
 
@FatPhil "Slap" is listed as "direct trauma", not "acoustic trauma".
I care not how "kidshealth.org" classify things. Notice how they've also separated "sudden pressure changes" into its own entry, despite the fact that all three of these things are just large pressure changes in a short interval. All three are the same shaped solution to the same wave equation.
 
Get a sound level meter, and put it right up against an Airpod playing on max volume. If it's 160 dB (the sound intensity required to rupture eardrums) or close, then the teenager's claim is plausible. If it's nowhere near 160 dB, then the teenager's claim is questionable.
Yes, I think that seems reasonable.
I guess some sampling of Airpods to make sure there isn't a wide variety of performance (I doubt that there is).
Ideally the kid's own Airpod should be examined.

If the boy's ear is that vulnerable, something would've likely happened well before he turned 12.
Good point, have to agree.
Maybe recent vulnerability due to a prior unnoticed infection or minor trauma, or a temporary weakness due to the growth process at 12? Admittedly I'm stretching the point, but there are so many users of these things some must have "funny ears".
 
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Seems like it would be fairly easy to prove or disprove the teenager's claim.

Get a sound level meter, and put it right up against an Airpod playing on max volume. If it's 160 dB (the sound intensity required to rupture eardrums) or close, then the teenager's claim is plausible. If it's nowhere near 160 dB, then the teenager's claim is questionable.

Unfortunately, I have neither a sound level meter or Airpods.
There's another thing to consider besides sheer volume. There is frequency as well. I remember listening to Philip Glass's music on the CD player in my car one time. I had the volume cranked up, and during one sustained low note I noticed that the inside rear view mirror was shaking like mad, while the car was not moving (stopped at a red light) ...until it dropped off the windshield.

Now I know that Amber alerts are designed to capture your attention (which they certainly do) but might their particular sound frequencies be the best thing to try in your suggested AirPod trial? There's a problem, in that it's illegal for someone to use that sound in case they broadcast it falsely, so the test would probably have to be something done in an official capacity.
 
There's another thing to consider besides sheer volume. There is frequency as well. I remember listening to Philip Glass's music on the CD player in my car one time. I had the volume cranked up, and during one sustained low note I noticed that the inside rear view mirror was shaking like mad, while the car was not moving (stopped at a red light) ...until it dropped off the windshield.

Now I know that Amber alerts are designed to capture your attention (which they certainly do) but might their particular sound frequencies be the best thing to try in your suggested AirPod trial? There's a problem, in that it's illegal for someone to use that sound in case they broadcast it falsely, so the test would probably have to be something done in an official capacity.
According to the CDC, noises above 120 dB can cause immediate hearing damage https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_lo... above 70 dB over,immediate harm to your ears. but it makes no reference to frequencies. For human ears it seems that decibels are the damaging factor here.
 
Thanks. I must have been misremembering something I read when I was searching for the volume of the alert.
i'm not saying its not illegal, thats why i didnt post the link. im just saying if someone needs it for experimentation its on youtube.
 
There's a problem, in that it's illegal for someone to use that sound in case they broadcast it falsely, so the test would probably have to be something done in an official capacity.
It is not illegal to use the sound, but it can't be broadcast.
Article:
Section 11.45(a) of the Commission’s rules provides that, “[n]o person may transmit or cause to transmit the EAS codes or Attention Signal, or a recording or simulation thereof, in any circumstance other than in an actual National, State or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS, or as specified in [Sections] 10.520(d), 11.46, and 11.61 of this chapter.”

If what you're doing is not governed by the FCC, you're fine.
 
The case got updated two days ago. https://www.pacermonitor.com/public/case/44560022/Gordoa_et_al_v_Apple,_Inc_et_al

From the link:

Minute Entry for proceedings held before Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley: Further Case Management Conference held and recorded by Zoom videoconference on 5/9/2024. Recording Time 2:05-2:18 Attorneys for Plaintiff: Jeremy Newell/Taj Paranjpe/James Lamey Attorneys for Defendant Apple: Sara Schneider/Mariam Chamilova Attorney for Defendant Luxshare-ICT, Inc.: Tyler Anders A Further Case Management Conference is set for 6/6/2024 at 1:30 p.m. by a Zoom webinar. Updated statement is due by 6/4/2024. Webinar Access: All counsel, members of the public, and media may access the webinar information at [LINK:https://www.cand.uscourts.gov/jsc] Court Appearances: Advanced notice is required of counsel or parties who wish to be identified by the court as making an appearance or will be participating in the argument at the hearing. A list of names must be sent to the CRD at JSCcrd@cand.uscourts.gov no later than noon on 6/5/2024. General Order 58. Persons granted access to court proceedings held by telephone or videoconference are reminded that photographing, recording, and rebroadcasting of court proceedings, including screenshots or other visual copying of a hearing, is absolutely prohibited. Zoom Guidance and Setup: [LINK:https://www.cand.uscourts.gov/zoom/] . (This is a text-only entry generated by the court. There is no document associated with this entry.) (ahm, COURT STAFF) (Date Filed: 5/10/2024)
 
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