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Class Action Lawsuit Seeks Damages For Military Personnel Issued Defective 3M Earplugs

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3M Company faces a class action lawsuit over its Combat Arms earplugs, which seeks damages for all U.S. Military personnel who received the allegedly defective product, which has been linked to reports of widespread hearing damage among the members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The complaint (PDF) was filed on by Michael Drago in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on August 2, pursuing damages for himself and all service members issued the defective 3M earplugs between 2003 and 2015.

Drago is a retired U.S. Army sergeant who served in the National Guard. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. However, prior to his deployment, his hearing was tested, and no problems were found, the lawsuit indicates.

He worked with a remote weapon station used on armored vehicles and ships and was given Combat Arms earplugs to protect his hearing. According to the lawsuit, they failed for him and thousands. He was diagnosed with 10% hearing disability by Veteran’s Affairs.

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.

“Defendants falsely promised the Combat Arms earplugs would protect soldiers’ ears from dangerous impulse noises, despite internal testing which revealed that such promises were false,” the lawsuit states. “Because of the defects, thousands of soldiers have been exposed to and/or suffered significant hearing loss and tinnitus. The Defendants statements and practices were nothing short of a continuing fraud which endangered the health and fitness of Drago and other U.S. service men and women that lasted more than a decade.”

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.

The proposed 3M earplugs class action would include all current or former U.S. Military personnel who were issued the earplugs, indicating that the claim should be certified since “common questions of law and fact exist and predominate over any questions of law or fact which may affect only individual Class members,” including issues around whether the 3M earplugs were defective, whether the manufacturer had a duty to warn about the problems and other issues.

The case joins a number of previously filed class action claims, as well as more than 1,000 individual 3M earplug injury lawsuits being pursued on behalf of specific members of the Armed Forces diagnosed with hearing loss, tinnitus and other problems following military service.

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