Friday, November 20, 2009

Should Audio Gear Manufacturers Get Product Liability Insurance?

Given everyone’s much greater awareness of the health of our hearing, should audio gear manufacturers avail themselves of product liability insurance in case of future class action lawsuits?

By: Ringo Bones

For some years now, the tobacco industry had been experiencing it first hand after a series of class action lawsuits put forth by cigarette smokers now suffering from lung cancer and other related diseases. Suing them for failing to fully warn against the full extent of the dangers of tobacco use. Given the relative ”success” of these lawsuits from the standpoint of the plaintiffs, will similar class action lawsuits will soon be besetting audio gear manufacturers after legions of Generation X-ers figure out why they can’t hear anymore?

If you happen to sell, supply or deliver goods – even in the form of repair service – you may need coverage against claims of goods causing injury, death or damage. Product liability insurance covers you if any of these events happen to another business or person by the failure of your product or the product you are selling. From a legalese standpoint, product liability is the area of the law in which manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and the rest who make products available to the public are held responsible for the injuries those products cause. Usually, there are three major types of product liability claims: manufacturing defect, design defect, and the failure to warn – also known as marketing defect.

While the tobacco industry – more often than not – had always resorted to that legal gray area of knowing only the harmful effects - i.e. health risks - of their product only several centuries after they started selling tobacco products to their customers, the warning signs of hearing loss usually manifest itself in very obvious ways. As in pain - hence the threshold of pain part of our hearing. But is this self-evident truth be enough to protect hi-fi and public-address systems manufacturers against future class-action lawsuits pertaining to hearing loss?

Warning signs and legal disclaimers are seldom – if ever – banded about by audio gear manufacturers in their adverts. The only audio gear manufacturer that I know of that warns their potential customers of the dangers of using their products at very high decibel levels is Polk Audio. On the advert of their SRT System, Polk Audio clearly warned that this audio system is capable of extreme sound pressure levels. The said advert even states that SRT Systems are supplied with a sound pressure level meter to help you – their prized client – determine safe listening levels. In my opinion, this is like a cigarette manufacturer providing their loyal customers with a great healthcare package.

As an avid Rock concert patron and sometimes performer, it is probably the sound reinforcement / public-address system side of audio gear manufacturing that should be availing themselves of product liability insurance. Given that contemporary Rock concert sound reinforcement systems can easily deliver clean and continuous 120 to 130-dB sound pressure levels to a relatively large number of people is a recipe for a large-scale hearing loss – not to mention the health-related class action lawsuit.

Will audio gear manufacturers do a Winchester House-like descent into superstition in the face of an impending class action lawsuit? I hope not. After all, the 19th Century firearm magnate William Wirth Winchester managed to ply his wares long before the American society became the litigious entity that it is today. With the use of contemporary American Rock music as a torture device in Guantànamo Bay Prison – i.e. playing American Rock music to terror suspect detainees, I think audio gear manufacturers must now have product liability insurance or get one as soon as possible. Thanks to the malfeasant way that the Bush-Cheney consortium conducted America’s “War on Terror”.

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