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According to allegations raised in a recently filed lawsuit against 3M, the company knowingly sold defective earplugs to the U.S. government for at least 12 years, causing widespread hearing problems for military personnel.
Andrew Bridges filed the complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on January 15, indicating that he has been left with permanent hearing loss from 3M earplugs distributed by the military that were “defective and unreasonably dangerous.”
Bridges indicates that he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. in 2006, with no symptoms of hearing loss or tinnitus, which involves persistent ringing in the ears. In February 2009, he was deployed for active duty in Iraq, and was issued 3M’s Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs Version 2, known as CAEv2. The 3M earplugs were used in both training and as standard issue in the field. according to the lawsuit.
Defective Military Earplugs
The 3M Combat Arms earplugs were reversible devices, which served as traditional earplugs one way, and then, when flipped over, were supposed to work as sound filtration devices. This means they were supposed to block loud noises and let in quiet ones. However, according to allegations raised in the lawsuit, 3M knew the earplugs were too short to properly fit in the ear effectively, and may not properly seal the ear canal, leaving service men and women without adequate hearing protection in the military.
Bridges indicates that he used the defective earplugs during tank firing, training firing, vehicle maintenance and combat. In July 2010, Bridges was diagnosed with hearing problems, and a month later he was discharged from the Marine Corps.
The lawsuit blames 3M and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, which originally developed and sold the Combat Arms earplugs, for selling defective products. The lawsuit indicates that the companies used flawed testing procedures to determine the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) for the earplugs, and knew they were not properly fitted for the human ear, requiring the wearer to fold back the flanges on the open end of the plug before inserting the closed end into the ear in order for them to be effective.
Because soldiers were never provided proper insertion instructions or warnings, many likely suffered hearing damage due to the earplugs’ defective design, Bridges’ lawsuit claims.
“Defendant’s Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs were standard issue in certain branches of the military (including Plaintiff’s) between at least 2003 to at least 2015,” the lawsuit states. “Thus, Defendant’s Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs have likely caused thousands, if not millions, of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss, tinnitus, and additional injuries related to hearing loss, including but not limited to pain and suffering and loss of the pleasures of life.”
U.S. Government Earplug Settlement
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 for knowingly selling the defective earplugs, and then by causing soldiers to suffer hearing loss whose health issues have to be addressed by the government. Out of the 3M earplug settlement, $4.5 million was for restitution.
Bridge’s lawsuit seeks individual compensatory and punitive damages for hearing loss caused by the 3M military earplugs. The complaint presents claims for negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, breach of warranties, fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, negligent misrepresentation, fraud and deceit.