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Wal-Mart Alarm Blamed for Hearing Damage

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (CN) - A woman's cochlear implants shocked her and made an earsplitting noise when they were damaged by a Wal-Mart theft-alarm system, she claims in Federal Court.

Yvette Garces had one of the implants surgically replaced and is scheduled to have the other replaced next month, according to a lawsuit she filed last week.

Cochlear implants are installed in a patient's inner ear and connect to an external transmitter placed behind their ear. Unlike hearing aids, they don't amplify sounds. Instead, they convert them to electric signals that are sent through the auditory nerve to the brain.

Garces and her husband sued Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Cochlear Americas and Tyco Integrated Security on Feb. 12, two days before the two-year statute of limitations deadline on their claims.

Garces says her hearing and health were damaged by a visit to a Wal-Mart store in Quakertown, Pa., on Feb. 14, 2014.

"Yvette Garces passed through the Sensormatic Anti-Theft pedestal system installed at the entrance/exit to the store and suffered severe electrical shock and head pain and experienced a loud noise after which the processors to plaintiff's implants stopped functioning," the 25-page complaint states.

Dizzy and disoriented, Garces says she lost all hearing in her right implant and still could not hear after she changed its battery inside the store.

"Plaintiff placed the left side processor on her right hearing attachment and

was instantly in pain as she received an intense, unintelligible sound on the right side," the lawsuit states.

The couple spoke to a Wal-Mart employee, who told them the Tyco-manufactured alarm system had been malfunctioning. During that conversation, the "alarm went off several times for no apparent reason" as people entered the store, Garces claims.

Garces went to see her audiologist a few days later at NYU Medical Center, and learned the right processor was damaged and the left was on the fritz.

The test results marked the first time in more than 12 years that Garces' doctor found her hearing had gotten worse, Garces says.

Cochlear implants give patients progressively better comprehension as they learn to interpret the audio signals that are different from normal hearing, according to the National Institute on Deafness.

Garces says the manufacturer Cochlear America replaced the right processor, but she could "hear no sound" after she attached it to the implant.

Garces had surgery to replace the damaged parts of her right implant in November 2014 and will have the other side done in March, according to the complaint.

She says she is also seeing specialists for the dizziness that has persisted since that day at Wal-Mart.

Garces wants punitive damages for negligence and product liability. Her husband sued for loss of consortium, claiming her hearing loss has harmed their relationship. They are represented by Everett Cook in Whitehall, Pa.

Wal-Mart, Cochlear Americas and Tyco Integrated Security did not respond to requests for comment made Wednesday.

Cochlear implants cost up to $100,000 when rehab costs are factored in, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery.

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