A California man has filed a class action suit against Motorola Inc in Cook County United States District Court, claiming that the Bluetooth® Headset maker has failed to inform consumers of the potential for hearing loss and to take adequate steps to prevent hearing loss among Bluetooth users.

The suit (Case No. 06CV5586), was filed October 16 on behalf of Martin Alpert and all other Bluetooth users by Segal, McCambridge, Singer & Mahoney, Ltd, Chicago; The Garcia Law Firm, Long Beach, Calif.; and Wasserman, Camden & Casselman LLP, Tarzana, Calif. It charges that Bluetooth Headsets, including the HS830, H3, H300, H500, H605, H700, HS805, HS815, HS820, HS850, HT820, and N136, are sold with the representation that they can be used for extensive time periods and that nowhere on the packaging materials or in the sales literature does it include warnings regarding noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), a condition with no cure or treatment, that the headsets are likely to cause.

“The Bluetooth headsets are silent killers in the most literal sense,” says Melissa Harnett of Wasserman, Camden & Casselman LLP. “They can destroy your ability to hear without you knowing it is happening.”
Sound pressure is measured in decibels (dB). The average person can hear sounds at about 0 dB, the level of rustling leaves. A conversation between two people is typically 60 dB. According to Dangerous Decibels, a nonprofit public health partnership for the prevention of NIHL, a dangerous sound is 85 dB and above.

“The American Speech-Hearing-Language Association recently included the Motorola’s H700 Bluetooth in a safety test, comparing it to federal standards for controlling occupational noise exposure,” says Harnett. “At full volume the headset tested from 82 – 106 dB. Can you imagine what that can do to the hearing of the average Bluetooth user who is using his headset for an extended period of time every day and has no clue that he is ‘poisoning’ his hearing with lethal doses of sound?”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says that exposure to sound averaging 85 dB for more than eight hours a day by itself presents a risk of hearing loss. According to NIOSH, each 3-decibel volume increase reduces the safety exposure time by half, which reflects the logarithmic nature of the decibel scale. For example, if a headset is set to provide a sound of 91 dB, noise induced hearing loss statistically develops if the headset is used for more than two hours a day. At 94 dB, NIHL statistically develops if the headset is used for more than one hour a day. At 102 dB, irreversible damage statistically develops if the headset is used for more than seven-and-a-half minutes per day.

“The headsets are designed to only produce sound in one ear. When the noise around the Bluetooth user increases, he turns the volume up,” says Harnett. “But the headsets don’t give the user any way of determining the decibel levels being emitted. It’s not like a car, where the speedometer tells you how fast you are going so you can slow down if you’re exceeding the speed limit. A warning does little good if people have no way to measure when they are reaching the danger zone.”

Harnett says that other manufacturers of products that transmit sound to the ears, such as Apple and Sony, have developed mechanisms that empower consumers to monitor the noise level being produced. She says that Bluetooth headset makers need to take similar measures.

Harnett filed the first Bluetooth headset case in the country against Motorola Inc, Jones vs. Motorola (Case No. CV 06-5182 RGK), which was originally filed in the California State Court on June 30, and then removed by Motorola to the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Of the roughly 40 million Americans who suffer from hearing loss, it is estimated that the hearing loss of 10 million of them can be attributed to NIHL. NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to a loud sound or by repeated exposure to sounds at various loudness levels over an extended period of time, which damage the microscopic hair cells found inside the ear’s cochlea. If enough of the hair cell’s hair-like stereocilia are damaged or broken, hearing loss results. There is no treatment, no medicine, no surgery and no device that can correct hearing that has been damaged by noise.

[SOURCE: US Newswire, October 2006]