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3M Company faces a product liability lawsuit over its Combat Arms earplugs, which were standard issue in the U.S. military for more than a decade, alleging that design defects caused a soldier to be left with hearing loss in both ears, as well as tinnitus.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Joseph Poag in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on March 15, accusing 3M of knowingly selling the military a defective earplug, which may have caused widespread hearing damage.
Poag, of California, was issued 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs while serving in the U.S. Army from 2008 through 2017, which included deployment to Afghanistan in 2012 and 2013. While serving, he suffered bilateral hearing loss and tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, and medically retired in January 2017. He now regularly uses hearing aids.
According to allegations raised in the lawsuit, Poag’s hearing damage was caused by the defective nature of the 3M earplugs, indicating that the manufacturer knew there was a problem with the design, and endangered U.S. veterans in order to continue making a profit.
“As of 2004, all soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were issued Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs. These earplugs were originally created by a company called Aero Technologies,” the lawsuit states. “3M acquired Aearo in 2008 for $1.2 billion dollars and hired the Aearo employees that developed and tested the defective earplugs. These 3M employees were aware of the defects as early as 2000, several years before 3M/Aearo became the exclusive provider of the earplugs to the military.”
The dual-ended, or reversible, earplugs were designed to serve as traditional earplugs when inserted one way, and provide filtering for certain noises when flipped over. The manufacturer has maintained that 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.
Plaintiffs indicate 3M knowingly sold defective earplugs to the U.S. military, which were too short to properly fit the ear effectively. As a result, the earplugs may not properly seal the ear canal, 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.