3M Earplug Lawsuit Filed Over Hearing Loss in Military

  • Written by: Irvin Jackson

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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.

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  1. Thomas Reply

    I am receiving 10% disability for hearing loss and have to wear 2 hearing aids I was in the Marine Corps from 1962-1968. I was based at Parris Island and Camp Lejuene I do not know If this lawsuite involves me or not but would like to have it looked into

  2. denny Reply

    in air force 1968-1972 worked on flightline-on some disibility with ringing ears-would this include me?

  3. kenny Reply

    I am an OIF and OEF vet that seen combat in Iraq. I do remember getting issued those specific earplugs, however I have been hit with multiple IED’s. I have been diagnosed with tinnitus but no major hearing loss. Is it even worth the time and effort to proceed with a claim for which one cant be sure the cause of the injury? “Infantry leads the way”

  4. Rich Reply

    I’m with Kenny above me in this chain. I was a Naval Special Warfare firearms instructor and ROIC, RSO. I am now ret and have 10% from the VA for tinnitus and I did use these ear plugs. What is the settlement going to be ??? $20.00???

  5. John Reply

    I was in the U.S. Airforce in 1971 to 1975 exposed to flight line noise and used ear protection.( support of ground equipment for air craft)
    I now have a VA disability of 10% (Tinnitus, ringing in ears)

  6. Charles Reply

    Come on guys, read the artical…this is only for those who suffered hearing loss between 2003 and 2015.
    Isn’t it interesting that the VA only gave all of us a 10% disability rating for our hearing loss.

  7. Tom Reply

    I have the 10% for tinnitus as well, but the VA denied my hearing loss claim as well. Even though my hearing loss is well documented in yearly hearing tests for my flight physicals. I wonder with this knowledge now, since I wore these earplugs if I can appeal the VA denial and actually get somewhere on it now…

  8. Mandy Reply

    I’m also rated 10% from VA for hearing loss/tinnitus. I’m medically retired Army. I served 1996-2012. I’d be interested in having more information.

  9. Kristopher Reply

    Marine corps artillery unit. Service date from 2008-2012.
    10% disability tennitus

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