After listening to music cranked on his iPod regularly for four years, John Stevens has suffered irreparable hearing loss and he contends Apple and its iconic music player are to blame.
"Apple and its iPod player made listening to music wherever, whenever, and at any volume easy and practical for John Stevens, and today my client at 38 has the hearing of a 75-year-old man," says Ross Stearns, attorney for the plaintiff. "For that, Apple bears responsibility, and that is why my client has filed this lawsuit in the First Judicial Court of Illinois."
In the claim, Stevens is seeking $1.5 million in compensatory damages and a court order that Apple include a governor on its music player to prevent users from listening to music or other audio products above a demonstrated safe level.
"Americans have shown an unwillingness or inability to take responsibility for themselves when it comes to using potentially harmful products such as the iPod, so companies such as Apple clearly have a responsibility to step in and take care of Americans on their behalf," says Stearns. "This lawsuit intends to send a warning to companies that profit at the expense of Americans' health, that the days of treating Americans as if they're responsible, self-actualizing consumers are coming to an end. it's time for companies to acknowledge that any product or service they provide to Americans must include buit-in limits that prevent Americans from consuming the products or services at levels that can cause irreparable harm, such as the iPod has done to my client."
Apple attorney Peter Rexler says the company expects the charges to be summilarily dismissed.
"We certainly feel for the plaintiff in this case," says Rexler. "Hearing loss at such a young age is something no one wants to see, and that is why Apple has always recommended to those enjoying its products that they use them according to the instructions, which include recommended levels at which music and other types of audio entertainment are to be enjoyed."
Stearns says the iPod is just the latest in a long list of products sold to Americans that can cause harm if used excessively. He listed cars and motorcycles that can reach speeds above posted street limits, bicycles that become unsteady when ridden at very slow speeds, and large-screen TVs that, when depicting images of women in bikinis, make them impossible to ignore even when the consumer has other, more important things to do such as wash the dishes, read a newspaper, or prepare tax returns.
"The bottom line is, Americans live in a world in which their ability to make decisions that are in their own best interest is compromised," says Stearns. "No one can be expected to take responsibility for themselves when Pamela Anderson is appearing practically naked on a 120-inch high-definition TV screen. What could be clearer, then, that it's up to our corporate citizens such as Apple to take responsibility for their customers and act like the grown-ups. That means not putting Pamela Anderson on TV unless she has sufficient clothes on to not look like anything special, and in the case of Apple, not letting its consumers wreck their hearing because they're too dumb to turn the volume down."
Studies bear out Stearns' contention. The incidence of hearing loss in young people has been accelerating and today one in five people under the age of 20 has damaged hearing. "It's an epidemic," says Stearns.
Corporate counsels say they're following the Stevens case closely, because almost any product that's sold in America today could be subject to a similar lawsuit.
"We're concerned that employers will sue next, because half of their employees are using their computers at work to surf porn on the Internet, watch full seasons of The Office at a single sitting, and engage in Internet gambling," says Edward Layer, president of the Association for Corporate Counsels. "It's a jungle out there, with products and services that leave Americans defenseless against their lure. If this case rules that Americans are in fact defenseless and exonerated of all responsibility for regulating their own behavior, then that responsibility will fall on the companies that provide these products and services. That will require companies to change their products and implement programs, which is a lot of work for people who themselves are spending half their day consuming entertainment to which they're addicted."
The good thing, says Layer, is that the judge in the case is himself addicted to YouTube videos, so the chances of a ruling coming out of his courtroom anytime soon is nil-at least as long as the Bed Intruder Song remains a must-see.