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3M’s Combat Arms earplugs that were issued to nearly every member of the U.S. armed forces are defective, according to allegations raised by a Pennsylvania man who indicates she was left with partial hearing loss and ringing in both ears after military service.
The complaint (PDF) was filed by Shannon Weaver in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, indicating that 3M Company knowingly sold defective earplugs to the U.S. military for years.
Weaver, of Pennsylvania, served in the U.S. Marine Corps and in the Army National guard, indicating that he was issued Combat Arms Earplugs and used them during both reserve and active duty to service avionics systems. He was deployed to active duty from May 2004 to October 2005.
Following military service, Weaver was diagnosed with partial hearing loss and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. As a result of the hearing damage caused by the defective earplugs, Weaver indicates that he now needs hearing aids in both ears
Combat Arms earplugs were first sold by Aearo Technologies 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 indicated that this was supposed to block loud noises, while letting the wearer hear spoken commands and other quiet sounds.
Weaver raises allegations similar to those presented in a growing number of defective earplugs lawsuits filed in recent months against 3M Company, each alleging that the manufacturer has known for years that the Combat Arms product was 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.
The lawsuit highlights how widespread use of the earplugs were, given not just to soldiers going into direct combat or undergoing live-fire exercises, but also to mechanics working on flight lines and in other capacities around loud, heavy equipment as well.
“At the time of Plaintiff’s deployment to Iraq, the 3M Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs were standard issue. Plaintiff consistently wore the Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs during his reserve and/or active duty in Iraq for a one to two-year period,” Weaver’s lawsuit states. “Specifically, Plaintiff wore the Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs while, among other things, servicing the electronic systems within military helicopters, and regularly worked in close proximity to the loud, propeller-generated aircrafts.”
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.