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According to allegations raised in a product liability lawsuit recently filed by a New York man who once served in the U.S. Army, problems with 3M Combat Arms earplugs issued during his military service left him with hearing loss, tinnitus and other problems.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Anthony Ciaffone in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on July 25, indicating that 3M Company and Aearo Holdings, Inc. sold the U.S. military defective and unreasonably dangerous earplugs.
Ciaffone served in the Army from 2007 through 2013, indicating that 3M Combat Arms earplugs were standard issue during that time. As required, he used the 3M earplugs when firing weapons and around other loud noises, both during training and in a combat deployment to Iraq from 2010 through 2011.
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 3M earplugs lawsuits have been filed in recent months, alleging that the manufacturer has known the product was defective for years, and failed to provide adequate hearing protection.
Ciaffone’s lawsuit, and similar complaints, noted that Aearo and then later, 3M, knew that their testing procedures for the earplugs was flawed, and that they were overstating the amount of protection they provided. This was due, in part, to the fact that wearers would have to fold back the flagnes of the unblocked end before putting them into their ears to reach the noise reduction ratio (NRR) of 22 claimed by the manufacturers. However, soldiers were never instructed to do that.
“3M’s/Aearo’s packaging and marketing of such earplugs with a labeled NRR of ‘22’ thereby misleads the wearer and has likely caused thousands of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss and tinnitus in addition to exposing millions more to the risk caused by 3M/Aearo’s defective earplugs,” Ciaffone’s lawsuit states. “Despite knowing that its flawed testing involved steps to manipulate the fit of the earplug, 3M’s/Aearo’s standard instructions for use of the earplugs do not instruct, and never have instructed, the wearer to fold back the flanges on the open end of the plug before inserting the closed end of the plug into their ears.”
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 loss and tinnitus may be the result of defective military earplugs, the number of individual product liability 3M Combat Arms lawsuits pending in courts nationwide is expected to increase dramatically in the coming months.