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A U.S. Marine veteran indicates that he has suffered hearing damage due to the “dangerously defective” design of 3M Combat Arms earplugs, which were standard issue throughout the U.S. military for years.
In a product liability lawsuit (PDF) was filed earlier this month in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Robert J. Wilkinson alleges that 3M Company knowingly sold dangerous and defective earplugs, which left military veterans without adequate hearing protection during service.
According to the complaint, Wilkinson served in the United States Marine Corps from June 2006 through June 2010. He was deployed to several overseas locations during his service, including to Afghanistan, where he regularly used machine guns like the M240 Bravo medium machine gun and the M2 heavy machine gun. He was also given 3M Combat Arms Earplugs as standard issue equipment.
In about 2008, he began suffering hearing loss and tinnitus, which involves persistent ringing in the ears, and was diagnosed with the hearing damage in 2010.
Combat Arms earplugs were first introduced by Aearo Technologies, before it was acquired by 3M, and millions of pairs of the earplugs were sold to the U.S. Military starting in 2003, which issued the military earplugs to soldiers until late 2015.
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 that 3M knew the military earplugs were too short to properly fit the ear effectively, failing to properly seal the ear canal and leaving soldiers without adequate hearing protection.
“Plaintiff used Defendant’s dangerously defective Combat Arms Earplugs during training and combat exercises,” the lawsuit states. “Defendant sold the Combat Arms Earplugs to the U.S. military for more than a decade without the military and/or Plaintiff having any knowledge of the defect(s) and failed to adequately warn the military and/or Plaintiff of the defect(s).”
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.