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Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs used during U.S. military service over the past decade were defective and unreasonably dangerous, according to allegations raised in a lawsuit filed by a former reservist who has been left with permanent hearing damage.
The complaint (PDF) was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri by Jonathan J. Foster, a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves, who is pursuing damages against 3M Company.
Foster indicates that he joined the Army Reserves in 2007, and was deployed to Afghanistan from about 2011 to 2012. Like millions of other U.S. military personnel, he was issued 3M Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs as standard equipment, and wore them both while in training and in the field. Following his military service, Foster indicates that he was diagnosed with tinnitus in 2014, which involves persistent ringing in the ears.
“Plaintiff used Defendant’s dangerously defective Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs while deployed in Afghanistan, and during other training and combat exercises,” the 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 earplugs were first introduced by Aearo Technologies, and sold to the U.S. Military in 2003. 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 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 military hearing damage lawsuits have been filed in recent months, alleging that 3M Company has known the earplugs were defective for years.
Plaintiffs indicate that 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 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.