3M Military Earplugs Caused Thousands, If Not Millions, of Soldiers to Suffer Hearing Loss: Lawsuit

A U.S. Navy veteran indicates that he is one of thousands, if not millions, of military service members who have been left with hearing damage from 3M Combat Arms earplugs, which were standard issue equipment for all soldiers for years, and allegedly have design defects that left users without adequate hearing protection during service.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Octavio Irizarry in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on August 18, claiming 3M Company knowingly sold the U.S. government dual-ended military earplugs that were defective.

Irizarry, of New York, says he was provided the Combat Arms earplugs while he served in the Navy. He used the earplugs believing they would protect him from loud noises such as the firing of ships’ weapons, which he was exposed to on a regular basis. However, the lawsuit indicates that 3M knew of the problems with the earplugs, and tried to hide them through deceptive product testing. These test results convinced the U.S. military to use the defective earplugs throughout all branches, the lawsuit claims.

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“Defendant’s Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs were standard issue in certain branches of the military (including Plaintiff’s) between at least 2003 to at least 2015,” Irizarry’s lawsuit states. “Thus, Defendant’s Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs have likely caused thousands, if not millions, of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss, tinnitus, and additional injuries related to hearing loss, including but not limited to, pain and suffering and loss of the pleasures of life.”

Irizarry served in the U.S. Navy from 1998 until 2007. He was diagnosed with hearing damage in 2014.

The 3M military 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.

Irizarry’s lawsuit, and a growing number of similar complaints filed in recent months, note that Aearo, the original manufacturer, and then later, 3M, knew that their testing procedures for the earplugs was flawed, and that they were overstating the amount of protection they provided. This was because, in part, wearers would have to fold back the flanges of the unblocked end before putting them into their ears to reach the noise reduction ratio (NRR) of 22 claimed by the manufacturers. However, soldiers were never instructed to do that.

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 earplugs, 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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