Thousands of United States servicemen and women potentially suffered hearing loss and tinnitus as a result of defective earplugs that were knowingly sold to the government despite their flawed design.
3M is the maker of the dual-ended earplug that was used exclusively by the United States military. The Combat Arms Earplug, version 2 was trusted by hundreds of thousands of soldiers who were serving their country in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
The company has been accused of knowingly producing these defective earplugs and putting United States servicemen and women at risk for serious hearing loss and tinnitus.
These earplugs were standard issue from 2003 to 2015, and were sometimes passed down to other servicemen and women even after 2015. They were used in combat zones during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other conflicts. There is also reason to believe the earplugs may have been used in combat training. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, veterans who served throughout this period during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom are four times more likely to suffer from major hearing damage than non-veterans.
Legal action against 3M is being taken by hundreds of injured veterans. A large lawsuit was recently settled in which 3M agreed to pay the federal government over nine million dollars to resolve allegations of defective design and fraudulent testing. There was no determination of liability.
Who May Be Eligible for Compensation?
Anyone who meets the following criteria could be eligible to receive compensation from 3M:
- Served in any branch of the United States military, including the Reserves and National Guard, between 2003 and 2018
- Used 3M Combat Arms Earplugs during training or deployment
- Have been diagnosed with partial or total hearing loss, tinnitus or another auditory issue that stems from military service
Pursuing legal action against 3M will not affect disability benefits and is not legal action against the military or any other government entity.
A Defective Product
The Combat Arms Earplugs were designed to be dual function. They had an olive-green end and a yellow end and were commonly referred to as “Christmas trees” by some users. One side of the plug acted as a normal earplug, blocking all sound. The earplugs could be flipped and when the other side was inserted particularly dangerous impulse sounds, such as blasts or gunfire, were filtered out while quieter sounds like voices and footsteps could still be heard. This function was supposed to allow soldiers to hear commands and conversations while protecting from loud noise.
The problem, however, is that the earplugs were too short and could dislodge without the wearer’s knowledge. If not tightly sealed, function was diminished and service members were subjected to dangerous levels of noise. When loose, the plugs were found to offer almost no protection.
Severe Injuries Caused
Servicemen and women who are exposed to loud noises without ear protection frequently develop tinnitus and can lose hearing ability in one or both ears. Those who thought that they were protected while using 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs may have been needlessly injured by situations they would have otherwise avoided.
Tinnitus is intermittent or constant noise in the ears. It is most often described as ringing in the ears, but may also be characterized by another sound, such as hissing, clicking, whistling or buzzing. It is often permanent.
Tinnitus may also cause difficulty sleeping and concentrating and can contribute to auditory processing disorders. Other service members lost full or partial hearing. They may require hearing aids or other adaptive technology and may lose their balance. Overall, hearing damage is a devastating injury and has a serious impact on day-to-day living.
The Extent of the Damage
The true number of veterans who have been injured by Combat Arms Earplugs is difficult to gauge since many injuries go unreported. However, the comprehensive 2017 Annual Benefits Report published by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) showed that 3,101,223 service members were treated for auditory damage and injury. These issues cost the VA over one billion dollars per year.
Even though soldiers have always been at a high risk for this type of injury due to the conditions they regularly experience, auditory damage has increased sharply for veterans of the last twenty years. Hearing loss and tinnitus were together the third most common issue experienced by veterans in 2003, according to the VA. By 2017, tinnitus and hearing loss had become the first and second most common disabilities among VA compensation recipients.
Estimates are that as many as 800,000 Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans could have potentially been harmed by the defective earplugs.
3M’s Gross Negligence
It was alleged in a lawsuit previously filed under the False Claims Act that 3M and the original developer of the earplugs, Aearo Technologies, knew the earplugs were defective and allowed service members to use them anyway.
The company is said to have falsified documents and manipulated testing in order to meet government standards and secure the large government contract to provide the earplugs to the military. The defect may have been known as early as 2000, three years before they were used by servicemen and women.
The Combat Arms earplug was used exclusively by the United States military. 3M supplied around 750,000 pairs of earplugs to troops every year. The guaranteed price it received for these was at least 9 million dollars.
When 3M acquired Aearo Technologies in 2008, it was said that the company was made aware of the defective design and fraudulent testing and still failed to act. 3M continued to employ developers and other agents who knew about the potential threat to troops.
The earplugs were discontinued in 2015 but had been continuously sold to the government until then. Moreover, because the earplugs have never been recalled, it is likely that they are still being used by service members or sold by other vendors who may not be aware of the allegations against 3M.
How to Proceed
The thought of taking on a big company such as 3M may be overwhelming, but Sommers Schwartz is available to help.
If you or a loved one served in the military from 2003 to 2018 and sustained hearing loss or tinnitus while using 3M’s product, you deserve to be compensated for your pain. Sommers Schwartz has experience with other cases against giant companies and is eager to hold 3M responsible for its negligent and reckless actions against United States veterans.
There is no fee for your initial consultation. If you feel you are eligible for compensation from 3M, Sommers Schwartz can help you determine which course of action is best for you. Please contact us today.