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3M Combat Arms Lawsuit Alleges Military Ear Plugs Caused Hearing Damage

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A U.S. Army veteran indicates that he has been left with hearing damage due to 3M’s Combat Arms ear plugs, which he indicates were regularly used during training and combat exercises during his years of military service. 

Matthew Cote filed a product liability complaint (PDF) against 3M Company in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma on February 4, indicating that the manufacturer knew about design defects with the ear plugs many years before it became the exclusive provider of ear plugs to the U.S. military.

According to the lawsuit, Cote is one of thousands, if not millions, who likely suffered hearing damage due to the defective design of 3M’s Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs, which were standard issue in the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015.

“Plaintiff used Defendant’s dangerously defective Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs during training and combat exercises,” Cote’s lawsuit states. “Defendant sold the Dual-ended 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).”

Combat Arms ear plugs were first sold by Aearo Technologies to the U.S. Military in 2003, and after the manufacturer was acquired by 3M Company, the ear plugs 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.

Cote raises allegations similar to those presented in a growing number of 3M Combat Arms ear plugs lawsuits filed in recent months by U.S. military veterans, indicating that the manufacturer has known for years that the ear plugs 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.

According to the complaint, Cote used the ear plugs while he served in the U.S. Army from February 2015 until December 2017. He joined when he was 19 and had no signs of hearing loss or tinnitus, the lawsuit states. He was diagnosed with hearing problems in August 2017, according to the lawsuit.

The ear plugs were issued and used while Cote was stationed at Fort Sill, in Oklahoma. However, he indicates that ear plugs were not only defectively designed, but the instructions were also inadequate, and should have notified soldiers to fold back the flanges on the opposite side of the earplugs to completely seal off sound.

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.

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