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Two U.S. Marines have filed a product liability lawsuit against 3M Company and Aearo Technologies, LLC., indicating that dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs left them with permanent hearing damage following military service.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Dustin Fitzpatrick and Reynaldo Padilla in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on June 12, with both men indicating that they were issued defectively designed earplugs that caused them to suffer bilateral hearing loss and tinnitus, or persistent ringing in the ears.
Fitzpatrick joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2009, at the age of 22, and was an infantry machine gunner stationed in Africa. Padilla joined the Corps in 2011, at the age of 20, and worked with field artillery and cannons including while stationed at bases in Japan and Thailand.
3M Combat Arms earplugs were standard issue by the U.S. Military during their years of service, and both men indicate that they did not have any hearing loss or tinnitus before receiving the earplugs.
“At the time the Combat Arms Earplugs left 3M’s control, they were defectively designed in that their design failed to prevent harmful sounds from entering Plaintiff’s ear canal during reasonably anticipated military activity, which was the specific purpose of the earplugs,” the lawsuit states. “The Combat Arms Earplugs were further defective in that 3M failed to meet the specifications required to prevent harmful sounds from entering the ear canal under conditions likely to occur in military service and during combat.”
The 3M earplugs were designed to serve as traditional earplugs when inserted one way, and provide filtering for certain noises when reversed. The manufacturer has maintained this was supposed to block loud noises, while letting the wearer hear spoken commands and other quiet sounds. However, a growing number of Combat Arms earplug lawsuits have been filed in recent months, alleging that 3M Company has known the product was defective for years.
Fitzpatrick, Padilla and other plaintiffs indicate 3M was aware of design problems with the earplugs, because they were too short to properly fit the ear effectively. However, the company continued to sell the earplugs to the U.S. Military, 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 loss and tinnitus may be the result of defective military 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.