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Hundreds of veterans are suing 3M Company after developing tinnitus and hearing loss while using defective 3M combat earplugs. As with most large product liability lawsuits, there are a lot of questions and confusion surrounding the earplugs themselves, their defect, who is affected, and how to file a claim for financial compensation.
With this in mind, Thomas J. Henry Law has developed the following guide answering to some of the most frequently asked questions concerning 3M’s combat earplugs. If you have any additional questions, do not hesitate to contact us directly for a free consultation.
What Earplugs Are Covered by the 3M Lawsuits?
Currently, lawsuits are dealing strictly with 3M’s Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs (CAEv2). The earplugs were originally developed by Aearo Technologies and later manufactured by 3M Company following its acquisition of Aearo Technologies in April 2008.
The 3M earplugs are known as “selective attenuation earplugs” and consist of two inverted cones, one black and one yellow, connected by a short stem stem. This dual-ended design is meant to provide wearers with two different levels of protection: one end (or cone) works like a traditional earplug while the other end, referred to as the “open” end, allows the wearer to hear quieter sounds while still attenuating loud noises.
The general idea was that troops could use the open end to hear speech, commands, and orders while still being protected from louder sounds like gunfire and explosions.
What is the Problem with the 3M Earplugs?
According to court documents, the stem that connects the two ends of the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs is too short and prevents the earplugs from sitting correctly in the ear. As such, loud noises are able to slip through, past the earplugs, and cause hearing damage. Additionally, the 3M earplugs can “loosen in the wearers ear, imperceptibly to the wearer and even trained audiologists visually observing the wearer, thereby permitting damaging sounds to enter the ear canal by traveling around the outside of the earplug.”
To make matters worse, the U.S. Justice Department alleges that both 3M and Aearo Technologies, the original manufacturer of the earplugs, knew about the defect as early as 2000 and actually manipulated test results to make it appear that the devices met government standards. They then proceeded to sell the faulty earplugs to the U.S. government, placing personal profit over the safety and health of U.S. troops.
How Many Troops Were Affected by the Defective Earplugs?
While it is still unclear how many troops suffered hearing damage due to the defective earplugs, potentially millions of service members were issued the earplugs.
Aearo Technologies was able to secure a contract with the U.S. government in 2003 becoming the sole provider of combat earplugs for the U.S. military. The contract moved to 3M Company as part of its acquisition of Aearo technologies in 2008. Consequentially, the defective earplugs were issued to troops deployed in combat zones around the world from 2003 to 2015.
How Do I Know If I Used Defective Military Earplugs?
The defective earplugs were issued to U.S. military members deployed in the following combat zones from 2003 to 2015:
The Indian Ocean
Further, it appears soldiers also used the earplugs during training. This means service members may have been exposed to damaging sounds, even if they were not deployed in combat zones.
How Was the Defect Discovered?
News of the problem broke in July 2018 when 3M agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Justice $9.1 million to settle allegations that it knowing sold the defective earplugs to the U.S. military. The settlement was part of a False Claims Act lawsuit against the company. 3M did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
Unfortunately, none of the $9.1 million paid by 3M will go to service members and veterans who developed tinnitus, hearing loss, or hearing damage, leaving the individuals affected the most to seek methods of recovery and compensation on their own.
Have the Defective Earplugs Been Recalled?
No. 3M discontinued production of the earplugs in 2015, but the earplugs were not ever actually recalled. As a result, it is likely the defective pairs are still being used by soldiers and sold by other vendors.
What Are Symptoms of Military-Related Hearing Damage?
Hearing loss is the most common disability among veterans. Frequent and persistent exposure to damaging levels of sound such as gunfire, aircraft noise, loud machinery, and explosions mean service members experience hearing loss and tinnitus at a much greater frequency than the average adult. In fact, in 2003, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported that auditory system injuries, including full or partial hearing loss and tinnitus, were the third most common type of service-connected disability.
As of 2017, the top two service-connected disabilities for all compensation recipients were tinnitus and hearing loss.
According to the Department of Defense, the most common symptoms of combat-related hearing problems include:
Buzzing or ringing in the ears
Difficulty hearing someone talking three feet away
Difficulty understanding what people are saying
A feeling of “fullness” in the ears after leaving a noisy area, such as a concert venue
However, hearing damage is complicated and symptoms can vary depending on the noise levels the sufferer was exposed too. Tinnitus, for example, is not limited to sounds of ringing and buzzing. In fact, some sufferers describe their tinnitus as hissing, clicking, roaring, or whistling.
Other symptoms of hearing loss include:
Muffling of speech and other sounds
Difficulty understanding words, especially against background noise
Trouble hearing consonants
Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly, or loudly
Withdrawal from conversations
Needing to turn up the volume of the television or radio
What Kinds of Damages Can I Seek?
Damages are not restricted to your physical injury, and damages may extend to include other facets of every day life that are affected, lost, or diminished. Among the most common damages sought in 3M earplug claims are:
Pain and suffering
Loss of consortium
Loss of earning potential
What Should I Do If I Suffered Hearing Loss While Using 3M Military Earplugs?
If you used 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs while in the military and now suffer from tinnitus or hearing loss, contact Thomas J. Henry Law for a free, no-risk consultation. Our attorneys can help answer your questions concerning your use of 3M military earplugs, the hearing loss and damage you may have suffered, and your options for filing a 3M earplugs claim and seeking financial consolation.
For the past 25 years, our experienced product liability attorneys have handled a multitude of defective product cases and have litigated against some of the largest companies in the world, including General Motors as part of their defective ignition switch fiasco. Our extensive legal and financial resources allow us to provide our clients with truly dynamic legal representation.
Let us help you recover the compensation you are entitled to. Remember, Thomas J. Henry Law works on a contingency fee basis – this means you do not pay us a dime unless and until we have won your case.