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Are you a service member or veteran who served in Afghanistan or Iraq between 2003 and 2015? If so, you may have been issued 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ earplugs to protect your hearing. Unfortunately, those earplugs were later found to be defective, and many service members suffered hearing loss.
Veterans affected by the lack of protection can now file 3M earplug lawsuits to recover compensation for their medical bills, pain, suffering, permanent disability, and other damages. If you believe this situation may apply to you, please contact us at Goldblatt + Singer the St. Louis Injury Law Firm at (314) 888-1000. Your consultation is free, and you won’t pay anything until we win your case.
Did you know that hearing loss/tinnitus is the number-one cause of service-related disability in military service members? Soldiers are often exposed to loud noises for a variety of reasons, from large aircraft to improvised explosives to heavy artillery. In 2003, the US military thought they’d found a solution to reduce hearing loss in service members: The 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs produced by Aearo Technologies (the company was later sold to 3M in 2008).
In fact, the US military bought out Aearo’s entire supply of 20,000 pairs at one point in 2003. The company won an exclusive contract to produce ear protection for the military and continued to do so until 2015, when Aearo was absorbed into 3M. In 2016, a 3M competitor, Moldex-Metric, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against 3M, alleging that the earplugs were defective and failed to protect service members’ hearing as claimed.
The Combat Arms earplug is a dual-ended, non-linear, selective attenuation device with one yellow and one olive end. If the olive end was inserted into the ear in the “closed” position, it was supposed to block all sounds, like most standard earplugs. If the yellow end was inserted in the ear in the “open” position, it was meant to block only higher-decibel noises like explosions, while the wearer could still hear normal-volume noises like conversation. This feature was very appealing to the US military, as it meant that soldiers could communicate with each other, hear and respond to commands, etc.
The Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs sound like a good solution, but Moldex’s lawsuit asserted that design defects in the plugs caused them to loosen, removing the ear protection they were meant to provide. The earplug stem was not sized correctly, so it couldn’t be placed deeply enough in some ear canals. For those wearers, the outer end of the earplug could press into the ear canal and revert to its uninserted shape, disrupting the protective “seal” the earplug was supposed to create. This left the user vulnerable to hearing damage and with no way to know the device had failed as there were no apparent signs.
Following Moldex’s suit, numerous veterans and the US government also pursued claims against 3M due to its defective design. These cases were based on allegations that the too-short plugs could become loose without the user’s knowledge, even when the plugs were used as directed. This is important in product liability cases because one possible defense for a product manufacturer is that the user did not use the product as directed and that the device is safe if used correctly. Because the manufacturer claimed the earplugs would guard against hearing damage when used as directed, they were also vulnerable to a False Claims Act suit.
The False Claims Act, also known as the “Lincoln Law,” is a statute designed to address fraudulent claims. It has existed in one form or another since 1863, when it was enacted to deal with defense contractor fraud during the Civil War. Since then, the law has been retooled to reflect modern financial realities. In its current form, those who knowingly make false claims to the government about a product can face fines of three times the government’s losses, plus a penalty that is decided based on the current state of inflation.
Under the False Claims Act, there is also a whistleblower clause that permits private parties to initiate a lawsuit for this type of fraud on behalf of the government, which is what Moldex did in the 3M case. Eventually, both the US government and Moldex proceeded to claim that 3M was aware of the earplugs’ deficiencies and their inability to protect service members’ hearing.
In 2018, the US government and 3M reached a settlement, which is the most common way for civil suits to end. Because the issue was fraud against the US government, the US military received most of the $9.1 million, with $1, 900,000 going to Moldex under the Act’s provision that whistleblowers share in the recovery. This money did not benefit any of the victims harmed by the earplugs, but a personal injury lawsuit is still possible for those individuals.
3M never admitted any wrongdoing (also common in lawsuit settlements), but they did stop selling the Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs. However, they did not recall the defective earplugs either, so some service members could still be using them, and vendors might continue to sell them.
Veterans who served between 2003 and 2015 may be able to file a lawsuit against 3M based on the claim that 3M (and before it, Aearo) had knowledge that the earplugs did not provide the promised protection against hearing damage. By May of 2022, more than 290,000 veterans and service members had already done so, but there may be others who are still eligible to file suit.
3M has lost multiple cases already, and is appealing them, while more lawsuits are pending. The company maintains that its earplugs are protective when fitted and used correctly, yet the Combat Arms lawsuits now represent one of the largest multidistrict litigations in the US.
Could you have hearing loss? Hearing loss can come on suddenly or slowly, and some people don’t realize they’re having hearing difficulties at first. Veterans and active service members should be aware of the signs of hearing loss. These include:
If you notice any of these common signs, we encourage you to see a doctor for a hearing evaluation. In the event that you have significant hearing loss, hearing aids or other treatments may improve your quality of life.
Aside from hearing loss, the other major symptom of hearing damage from the Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs in tinnitus. This is defined as hearing ringing or other noise (such as buzzing, roaring, or clicking) in the ears when there is no external sound to explain it. Tinnitus is a symptom that can indicate various health problems and sometimes occurs as a part of the aging process. However, it frequently happens due to ear damage and hearing loss, and loud noise exposure is considered a risk factor for developing tinnitus.
There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are therapies and medications that may help reduce the symptoms. Some patients may also benefit from white noise machines or sound-masking devices. If you often hear a ringing or other kind of noise that no one else seems to hear, please see a doctor about it so you can get a diagnosis and learn your options.
Many veterans have told us they never realized what caused their tinnitus or hearing loss when they had always been careful about using the earplugs during their service. If you or someone you love served between 2003 and 2015, and you suffered any kind of hearing loss or tinnitus, you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against 3M. If you don’t remember what kind of earplugs you used, please let us know – we can help you track down that information. If 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs failed to protect your hearing, you deserve compensation for the pain and difficulties you’ve endured.
Please contact Goldblatt + Singer the St. Louis Injury Law Firm at (314) 888-1000 for a free consultation on your case. There’s no obligation, and if we take your case, we don’t charge you any fees until we win.
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