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A U.S. Army veteran’s lawsuit claims the defective design of 3M Combat Arms earplugs left him with a constant ringing in both ears and hearing loss, indicating the reversible earplugs imperceptibly loosen in the wearer’s ear.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by William Barnes in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on May 1, joining a growing number of similar claims brought against 3M Company and it’s Aearo Technologies subsidiary, alleging that military earplug design was dangerous and defective.
Barnes indicates that he was issued a set of defective dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs in 2005, while serving in the U.S. Army. He used the earplugs both in the U.S. and when stationed overseas during his military service.
The manufacturers put Barnes and millions of other service men and women at risk of hearing damage to make a profit, according to claims raised in the lawsuit.
“Plaintiff used the earplugs as instructed during training and when deployed abroad and, as a result of the defective condition, now suffers from tinnitus and mild to moderate hearing loss in both ears,” Barnes’ lawsuit states. “Defendants knew the earplugs were defective, and possessed this knowledge prior to the selling (of) these earplugs. In an effort to qualify for a multi-million dollar per-year contract with the United States, Defendants falsified test results and misrepresented the performance specifications of the Combat Arms Earplugs.”
The 3M earplugs were designed to serve as traditional earplugs when inserted one way, and provide filtering for certain noises when reversed. The manufacturer has maintained this was supposed to block loud noises, while letting the wearer hear spoken commands and other quiet sounds. However, a growing number of military hearing damage lawsuits have been filed in recent months, alleging that 3M Company has known the earplugs were defective for years.
Barnes and other plaintiffs indicate that 3M knew the earplug design was defective, because they were too short to properly fit the ear effectively. However, the company continued to sell the earplugs to the U.S. Military, leaving soldiers without adequate hearing protection.
In July 2018, 3M reached a $9.1 million settlement over the Combat Arms earplug problems with the Department of Justice, resolving claims that it defrauded the government by knowingly selling the defective earplugs, and then by causing soldiers to suffer hearing loss whose health issues have to be addressed by the government.
As more U.S. military veterans learn that hearing problems may be the result of defective ear plugs, the number of individual product liability 3M Combat Arms lawsuits pending in courts nationwide is expected to increase dramatically in the coming months.