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According to allegations raised in a recently filed product liability lawsuit, 3M Company knew it’s Combat Arms earplugs were defective and falsified tests in order to profit from selling the earplugs to the U.S. military, leaving service members without adequate hearing protection.
Bret Holder filed the complaint (PDF) on March 29 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, indicating that he has been left with hearing loss and tinnitus after the military earplugs manufactured by 3M and it’s Aearo Technologies subsidiary did not work.
3M Combat Arms Earplugs dual-ended, or reversible, with a unique design that the manufacturer indicated allowed the device to serve as a traditional earplug when inserted one way, and provide filtering for certain noises when flipped over. This was supposed to allow U.S. military service members to block loud noises, such as battlefield explosions, while allowing the wearer to hear spoken commands and other quiet sounds, such as approaching combatants.
Holder indicates that he was issued the earplugs while serving in the military, as they were were distributed to nearly every service member between 2003 and 2015.
The complaint joins a growing number of military earplug lawsuits filed against 3M Company in recent months, each raising similar allegations that the manufacturer knew the earplugs were defective, since they were too short to fit the ear of certain users. As a result, the military earplugs may not properly seal the ear canal, leaving soldiers at risk for hearing damage. However, 3M Company continued to sell the Combat Arms earplugs to the U.S. military and profit from the defective earplugs.
“Defendants knew the earplugs were defective prior to selling them because they falsified test results and misrepresented their performance specifications to qualify for multi-million dollar per-year contracts with the United States Government,” the lawsuit states. “Aearo started selling these earplugs to the Government in 2003 and continued to sell the earplugs for Military use for over a decade. In 2008, 3M Company acquired Aearo and continued selling the defective earplugs until discontinuing the model in 2015. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of servicemembers have had their hearing damaged because of Aearo’s and 3M’s conduct.”
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.