Military Hearing Loss Was Caused By Defective Combat Arms Earplugs, Lawsuit Alleges

A U.S. Army combat veteran has filed a lawsuit, alleging that defective Combat Arms earplugs left him with permanent hearing loss following military service

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Sgt. Scott D. Rowe in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on January 22, indicating that 3M Company and it’s Aearo Technologies subsidiary knowingly sold the U.S. military defective earplugs, which failed to properly protect soldiers from loud battlefield noises, such as gunfire and explosions.

Rowe indicates that he was issued dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs version 2, CAEv2, when he was stationed at Fort Hood and Fort Lewis, as well as while deployed to Iraq in 2003 to 2004 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, as a result of design defects, which caused the earplugs to imperceptibly loosen in the ear, Rowe claims he suffered hearing loss and tinnitus, which involves ringing in the ear.

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Combat Arms earplugs were sold by Aearo Technologies to the U.S. Military since 2003, and after the manufacturer was acquired by 3M Company, the earplugs continued to be issued to nearly every service member 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 indicated that this was supposed to block loud noises, while letting the wearer hear spoken commands and other quiet sounds.

According to allegations raised in the product liability lawsuit, the manufacturer knew for years that the earplugs were defective, and too short to properly fit the ear effectively. As a result, the earplugs may not properly seal the ear canal, leaving soldiers without adequate hearing protection in the military.

“When Defendant Aearo/3M Company initially tested the dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs before becoming the exclusive supplier of military earplugs, the test subjects were instructed to manipulate the earplugs due to the short stem so that it would achieve a satisfactory noise reduction rating,” the lawsuit notes. “However, these same instructions to manipulate the dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs in this manner were not given to end users of the earplugs. Because of this, Plaintiff and other users of the dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs only used the earplugs according to the instructions provided by Defendant 3M Company, which did not instruct them to manipulate the earplugs to achieve a proper fit.”

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.

Rowe’s claim is one of a growing number of 3M earplug lawsuits now being pursued by former service men and women who now have permanent hearing loss. More than three million veterans suffer from either hearing loss or tinnitus, many of whom may have suffered those injuries due to the use of Combat Arms earplugs, indicating that thousands of lawsuits may be filed in coming months.


  • ChristianFebruary 3, 2019 at 8:33 pm

    I was issued the same ear plugs during both of my deployments. I was never told those instructions either! So I have tinnitus now because someone failed to tell me a simple instruction?

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