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3M Earplug Noise Reduction Ratings Mislead Military Personnel About Effectiveness, Lawsuit Alleges

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A U.S. Navy Veteran claims that 3M Company misled the U.S. government about the noise reduction ratings of its Combat Arms military earplugs, resulting in in permanent hearing damage for himself and potentially hundreds of thousands of service members, according to a recently filed product liability lawsuit.

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Edward Waller in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on October 11, pursuing damages from 3M Company over design defects associated with earplugs that were provided as standard issue equipment for all members of the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015.

Waller, of Louisiana, served as a maintenance specialist in the Navy from 2008 through 2010, indicating that he was provided the 3M earplugs during that time. However, as a result of problems with the design, Waller indicates that he has been left with hearing loss and tinnitus, or persistent ringing in the ears.

The 3M Combat Arms 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 3M earplug lawsuits have been filed in recent months, alleging that the manufacturer knew or should have known that the product was defective for years, and continued to sell the earplugs to the U.S. military without adequate warnings or instructions.

Waller claims that 3M and its predecessor, Aearo, who originally developed the earplugs, assigned noise reduction ratings (NRRs) to the product that it knew to be false.

“While monitoring the January 2000 testing, 3M/Aearo prematurely stopped the tests after achieving barely half the NRR they were expecting for the Dual-ended Combat Arms earplug,” the lawsuit states. “3M/Aearo immediately investigated why the Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs had performed so poorly and discovered that the earplug stem was too short to properly fit the ear canal. 3M/Aearo was aware at this time that the Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs were not performing as anticipated due to design defects.”

Regardless, they sold the earplugs to the U.S. military, and thousands of former service members now indicate that they have been left with permanent hearing damage.

In July 2018, 3M reached a 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.

Waller’s case joins more than 2,200 other product liability lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system over problems with the 3M earplugs. However, 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 claims filed nationwide is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.

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