Thousands of United States veterans are suing 3M Company because of injuries caused by defective combat earplugs. The lawsuits allege that men and women sustained hearing loss and developed tinnitus while using the combat earplugs. There are over 140,000 individuals who have already come forward with claims, and more claims are expected to be filed against the company. 

Defective Military-Issued Combat Earplugs Injured Military Members

The injury claims are linked to the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs issued by the military to service members between 2003 and 2015. The service members were stationed in the Indian Ocean, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan. Some military members may have been issued the earplugs during training.

Aearo Technologies originally developed the Combat Arms earplugs. 3M Company purchased Aearo Technologies in 2008. Accordingly, 3M is now responsible for any damages caused by the defective earplugs before and after purchasing the company. 

How Was the Defect Discovered?

News of the defective military earplugs surfaced when 3M settled a False Claims Act lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Without admitting any fault, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to the Department of Justice to settle the lawsuit. However, none of that money will be paid to service members or veterans who sustained injuries and damages because of the defective earplugs.

The earplugs were designed to protect the wearer with two levels of noise protection. One end of the earplug works like a traditional earplug. The other end permits troops to hear commands, speech, and other quieter sounds. The soldiers would still receive noise protection from loud sounds, such as explosions and gunfire.

According to allegations in lawsuits filed against 3M Company, the earplugs are defectively designed. They do not fit properly in the ear. The result is that loud noises can bleed through the device, causing hearing damage. Another problem with the design is that the earplug can loosen in the ear, allowing noise to enter the ear canal by traveling around the outside of the earplug.

To date, 3M Company did not issue a recall for the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs. The company merely stopped manufacturing the defective devices in 2015. Without a recall, there could still be soldiers using the earplugs who may be unaware of the dangers caused by the defect.

What Types of Injuries Have Been Linked with the Military Earplugs?

Combat-related hearing loss is one of the most common disabling conditions reported by service members. The constant loud noises from aircraft, guns, explosions, and machinery can cause tinnitus and hearing loss

Common symptoms associated with combat-related hearing injuries include:

  • Ringing or buzzing in the ears 
  • Difficulty understanding what other people are saying
  • Difficulty hearing conversation that is within three feet
  • Feeling a full sensation in the ears after leaving a place that is noisy
  • Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
  • Asking people to speak more slowly or repeat words
  • Turning up the volume on televisions, radios, cell phones, and other devices because you cannot hear them
  • Difficult hearing doorbells, alarm clocks, birds, and other high-pitched sounds
  • Sounds and speech seem muffled
  • Hypersensitivity to some sounds

There could be other symptoms of hearing damage or tinnitus. A complete hearing evaluation is required to determine the level of hearing loss and damage caused by loud noises.

Lawsuits Filed Against 3M for Defective Military Earplugs

More than 2,500 product liability lawsuits have been filed seeking damages caused by the defective earplugs. The cases have been centralized in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) action in Florida. 

The claims are being handled through the Northern District of Florida to coordinate pretrial proceedings and discovery to make the process more efficient for all parties. However, the cases remain separate and will be tried individually.

Damages that veterans and service members may seek through a product liability lawsuit include:

  • The cost of diagnosis and medical treatment for hearing loss and tinnitus
  • Permanent impairments and disabilities caused by the defective earplugs
  • Loss of income and benefits if the person cannot work
  • Future loss of wages and decreases in earning potential because of permanent disabilities
  • Pain and suffering damages, including loss of consortium and decreases in quality of life
  • Cost of medical devices to assist with hearing loss

Trials are set to begin soon in the 3M earplug lawsuits. For that reason, you must not delay contacting a product liability lawyer to discuss your legal rights and options. 

Once the cases begin to go to trial, claims could begin to settle. A class action settlement could be proposed. You want to ensure that your best interests are protected and that you receive the compensation you deserve because of injuries caused by defective earplugs.