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An active duty, U.S. Army Major indicates he is suffering from hearing loss and tinnitus due to the defective design of 3M earplugs that have been standard issue to all members of the military in recent years, according to allegations raised in a recently filed lawsuit.
Major Michael J. Hooper filed a complaint (PDF) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on April 3, indicating that he has been left with hearing loss after using the dual-ended, Combat Arms Earplugs manufactured and sold by 3M Company and it’s Aearo Technologies, LLC subsidiary.
According to the lawsuit, Major Hooper enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2001, and was issued the 3M earplugs before being deployed overseas to combat zones in 2004, 2008, and 2011. He indicates that he used the Combat Arms earplugs during tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Plaintiff used Defendants’ dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs – (Version 2 CAEv.2) while in training and/or deployed on active military duty and, as a result of its defective condition, now suffers hearing loss and tinnitus,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants knew the earplugs were defective prior to selling them because they misrepresented their performance specifications and falsified test results to qualify for a multi-million dollar per-year contract with the United States.”
The 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 3M earplugs lawsuits have been filed in recent months, alleging that the manufacturer has known about design defects for years, yet withheld information from the U.S. military and service members.
Plaintiffs indicate 3M knowingly sold defective earplugs to the U.S. military, which were 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 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 experienced following military service 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.