Acoustic Trauma Lawsuit

It’s a problem that afflicts about 50 million Americans. It most commonly manifests itself as ringing in the ears, but countless people also hear hissing, clicking, or even musical sounds. Tinnitus is one of the most common health conditions in the country but often feels like a personal and invisible affliction that others simply don’t understand.

Those who suffer from tinnitus don’t have to suffer alone. Although there is no cure for some underlying causes of tinnitus, treatment can help minimize the nuisance and struggle associated with the condition. People have also been successful in filing lawsuits to get the justice they deserve.

Tinnitus Causes and Symptoms

In general, there are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective.

Subjective Tinnitus. This is by far the most common type of tinnitus. The American Tinnitus Association estimates around 99 percent of all cases of tinnitus are subjective1. This type is defined by a sound inside the head that only the individual can hear.

Objective Tinnitus. Only representing about 1 percent of tinnitus cases, objective tinnitus is when the sound an individual hears inside their head is also audible to others. The noise is often generated by structures in or near the ear, such as muscle contractions or turbulent blood flow.

Tinnitus itself is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying issue. A person will never develop tinnitus by itself but instead will develop another condition or disease that causes ringing in the ears.

Here are just some of the causes of tinnitus:

  • Loud noises
  • Age-related hearing loss
  • Earwax buildup
  • Constant exposure to noise
  • Foreign object in ears
  • Diabetes
  • Head or neck injuries
  • High blood pressure
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Ear infections
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Tumors
  • Certain medications
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Arteriovenous malformation
  • Acoustic neuroma

Despite being a common malady among Americans, the severity of tinnitus can vary widely.

Out of the roughly 50 million Americans suffering from some form of tinnitus, 20 million struggle with chronic tinnitus. Another two million people suffer from extreme and often debilitating cases of tinnitus.

The symptoms of tinnitus are continuous or intermittent sounds in the ear, such as:

  • Ringing
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Whistling
  • Low voices
  • Roaring
  • Music
  • Rushing

What is Acoustic Trauma?

The most common cause of tinnitus is loud sounds. When the inner ear suffers an injury from a loud sound, it is called acoustic trauma. The injury most commonly arises from a single loud noise like a gunshot near the ear, but it can also result from long-term exposure to loud sounds or physical trauma.

Some people are at higher risk than others for acoustic trauma. Here are some things that increase a person’s risk.

Working in loud environments. Some industrial jobs require working near loud equipment. Prolonged exposure to loud machinery can cause acoustic trauma. Jobs you wouldn’t normally consider to be potentially harmful to the ears can also put people at risk. One example is a firefighter who is exposed to loud sirens on trucks.

Attending concerts. Concerts are loud. Many well-known artists suffer from tinnitus and hearing loss like Eric Clapton and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. However, damage can also be done to audience members.

Living in loud areas. Some people are exposed to high-decibel sounds for long periods of time where they live. For example, living next to an airport can put residents at risk for hearing damage.

Firing weapons. Police officers and military personnel who fire weapons both in active duty and at firing ranges are also susceptible to acoustic trauma.

In some cases, acoustic trauma can also result in a perforation of the eardrum.

Ruptured Eardrum Symptoms and Causes

A ruptured eardrum is when there is a small hole or tear in the eardrum. The eardrum, also called the tympanic membrane, is a thin flap of skin that separates the ear canal from the middle ear. The eardrum vibrates from sound waves and passes the vibrations along to the inner ear.

Along with helping your brain receive sound signals, the eardrum also protects the middle of the ear from bacteria and foreign objects.

While some people don’t notice any symptoms of a ruptured eardrum, others can experience severe pain that remains steady or fluctuates throughout the day.

Other symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include (but are not limited to):

  • Pus-filled discharge from the ear
  • Bloody drainage from the ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Tinnitus
  • Vertigo
  • Ear pain

While many people assume a ruptured eardrum is most commonly caused by loud sounds, there are three common causes of a ruptured or perforated eardrum.

Infections. When a person has an ear infection, fluid or pus often builds up behind the eardrum. As the pressure increases, the eardrum can burst.

Changes to pressure. Variations in pressure inside and outside the ear can also lead to a ruptured eardrum. For example, scuba divers have reported ruptured eardrums from environmental pressures differing from the pressure inside their ear.

Ear injury. Direct strikes to the ear from a car accident or blow to the side of the head can also cause damage to the eardrum. On a related note, direct pressure on the eardrum — such as an errant Q-tip pushed too far into the ear canal — can perforate the eardrum.

Examples of Acoustic Trauma Lawsuits

The prognosis for acoustic trauma is not good. The damage done to the inner ear is permanent and any hearing loss experienced up to that point cannot be reversed. For those experiencing debilitating cases of tinnitus, the consequences of acoustic trauma can be devastating.

That’s why victims of acoustic trauma have taken legal action against companies and individuals over claims of negligence and even defectively designed products. Examples of lawsuits have been varied.

Many people have suffered acoustic trauma and hearing loss in car accidents. In one case, a woman named Lindsey Patrick was in a car accident in February 2013 that resulted in deployed airbags2. The side curtain airbag near the driver hit her on the side of her face and ear. She described the airbag deployment as an “explosion.” She immediately started experiencing ringing in her ear and hearing loss.

Patrick sued the driver of the other vehicle for automobile negligence. A trial court initially dismissed the action, saying that her hearing loss was “mild” and not a serious impairment. That dismissal was reversed by an appeals court.

Those who work in loud environments have also successfully filed lawsuits. In one of the biggest examples, thousands of firefighters have filed lawsuits against a company called Federal Signal for making poorly designed sirens that do not direct excessively loud sounds away from firefighters.

By 2015, more than four thousand firefighters had filed lawsuits. The largest settlement from the company was reached in 2011 when it agreed to pay 1,069 firefighters $3.6 million3. Cases related to firefighters and hearing damage are continuing to make their way through the legal system.

Those who believe they have suffered acoustic trauma and hearing loss due to the negligence or defective design of another party should contact a qualified attorney to find out whether they have a case.