A US case has recently been decided which could have interesting implications for suppliers of MP3 players and similar equipment.

The case was brought against Apple, maker of the iPod, by users who had suffered deafness. The claimants argued that the device had led to their hearing loss, since it was capable of delivering sound levels measuring up to 115dB and this was a breach of product liability law. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided that Apple was not liable for the noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

Judge David Thompson ruled that just because the device was capable of being used in a dangerous way, that did not make the manufacturer liable if it was used dangerously and a sufficiently clear warning was provided with each device. The Court found that the claimants had ‘failed to state claims for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose’.

Although it is easy to diagnose, NIHL is an irreversible injury and it is normally not noticed by the injured person until it is too late. There is little doubt that many MP3 players can deliver (if used with sufficiently sensitive headphones) sound pressure levels which are capable of producing NIHL.

Although the decision of the US court is not binding on UK courts, it is likely that a case brought on similar grounds here would produce the same sort of argument.