U.S. veterans have filed at least 11 lawsuits nationwide accusing 3M of knowingly selling thousands of defective earplugs to the military for use in combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan or training exercises in the United States. According to a report in the Star Tribune, 3M, without admitting guilt, agreed six months ago to pay military branches $9.1 million to settle the government’s allegations that the company supplied defective earplugs to service members. The soldiers who filed the lawsuits said the faulty earplugs caused them to suffer permanent hearing loss or tinnitus.
One of the plaintiffs, an Army veteran, told the Star Tribune that he was required to wear 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs. He said he was deployed to Afghanistan and went into the military with “great hearing.” But, when he left active duty, Kevin Cronin said, he suffered drastic hearing loss and tinnitus. He said he now has to wear hearing aids.
Permanent Hearing Loss
Attorneys who filed suit on behalf of clients said they have been contacted by hundreds of veterans who have been diagnosed with hearing loss. They all used Combat earplugs during either combat or military training exercises from 2003 to 2015. 3M acquired the products when it bought Aearo Technologies in 2008. Several plaintiffs have asked the federal court in Minneapolis to grant a “multidistrict litigation” (MDL) pretrial review of the cases. Other attorneys said they would pursue class action status for the lawsuits.
The lawsuits allege that the first defect in the earplugs was discovered in 2000 but that Aearo falsified test results so the products continued to be sold to the military for more than a decade. The Combat earplugs were marketed and advertised as being dual-ended. This means that if you insert one end in your ears you block out all noise. But, if you insert the other end, you are supposed to be protected from loud blasts while still being able to hear commands and conversations. The lawsuits say the earplugs not only had a flange that was loose, but were also not long enough to fully protect the ear from explosions and gunfire.
Product Liability Issues
It is indeed tragic that our service members are victims of defective products that have caused them permanent injuries and damages. Service members are already vulnerable to physical and psychological injuries. We hope they get justice and their day in court. 3M should do the right thing and compensate these brave soldiers for the injuries, damages and losses they have suffered as a result of using these defective earplugs.