Litigation Ramps Up Over Defective 3M Combat Earplugs That Have Injured Hundreds of Thousands of Military Service Personnel

Litigation Ramps Up Over Defective 3M Combat Earplugs That Have Injured Hundreds of Thousands of Military Service Personnel

Bordas & Bordas is currently handling cases related to defective 3M Combat Arms earplugs.

Thousands of veterans are suing 3M Company after developing tinnitus and hearing loss while using defective combat earplugs. According to a recent court-ordered census of all current and expected 3M Combat Arms earplug cases, nearly 140,000 individuals nationwide have already presented claims for hearing loss because of design defects linked to the military-issued 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs -- with many more claims expected.

The defective earplugs were issued to U.S. military members deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia and the Indian Ocean between 2003 and 2015. In addition, soldiers are also believed to have been issued these defective earplugs during training during this timeframe.

The earplugs at issue were designed and marketed as “selective attenuation earplugs” meant to provide wearers with two different levels of protection with the closer end working like a traditional earplug while the farther end would permit troops to hear quieter sounds like speech, commands and orders while still being protected from the louder sounds of gunfire and explosions.

However, according to court documents, the stem that connects the two ends is too short and prevents the earplugs from properly fitting in the ear -- allowing loud noises to bleed through and cause hearing damage. Additionally, the 3M earplugs can “loosen in the wearer’s 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.”

There are currently about 2,800 product liability lawsuits filed against 3M Company throughout the federal court system, with tens of thousands of additional claims expected in the coming months. Because these lawsuits involve common questions of fact and law, a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) action was established to centralize all of the 3M earplug hearing loss claims before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida to coordinate discovery and pretrial proceedings.

To help the parties get an idea of how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony likely to be repeated throughout the claims, Judge Rodgers has outlined a plan for selecting a small group of representative cases, which will go through case-specific discovery and be prepared for early trial dates.

If you have suffered service-related hearing loss, you should contact an experienced firm right away to explore your potential for a claim. 

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 it knowingly 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 most affected 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 never 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 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 to which the sufferer was exposed. 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

Difficulty sleeping

Difficulty concentrating

What Kinds of Damages Can I Seek?

Damages are not restricted to your physical injury and damages may extend to include other facets of everyday life affected, lost or diminished.

Among the most common damages sought in 3M earplug claims are:

Injury

Pain and suffering

Loss of consortium

Medical expenses

Lost wages

Loss of earning potential


Thousands of veterans are suing 3M Company after developing tinnitus and hearing loss while using defective combat earplugs.