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An active duty U.S. Army Special Forces officer has filed a product liability lawsuit against 3M Company, alleging that he has suffered hearing loss and tinnitus due to the defective design of the Combat Arms earplugs, which have been standard issue by the military since 2003.
In a complaint (PDF) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on June 6, Chief Warrant Officer Clinton Boneschans indicates he was issued defective military earplugs made by 3M Company. He also indicates he later bought some of the 3M earplugs on his own, not realizing the damage they were causing to his hearing.
Boneschans, on active duty with the Third Special Forces Group, indicates he joined the Army in 1999 at 18 years old, and has been stationed at For Bragg since 2002, except for occasional deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations.
During that time, 3M Combat Arms earplugs have been provide to Boneschans and other service members. Believing that he would not have been issued defective earplugs by the military, Boneschans has also purchased a pair at a surplus store.
Boneschans’ lawsuit states he first noticed hearing problems in late 2005 or early 2006. The condition continued to worsen and he was diagnosed with hearing loss in 2011. An examination in October 2018 indicated he was suffering 90% hearing loss in his left ear, and tinnitus, which involves a ringing of the ears.
“Plaintiff wore the Combat Arms Earplugs on all or nearly all occasions when he was exposed to noises louder than background noise that a civilian encounters in daily life,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff now experiences one to four episodes of tinnitus every day. The episodes are more frequent and more intense at quiet times. As a result, the condition requires him to sleep with a noise machine at night. Plaintiff now has extreme difficulty hearing sounds that come from behind him and sounds that are at any significant distance.”
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 military earplug hearing loss lawsuits have been filed in recent months, alleging that 3M Company has known the product was defective for years.
Boneschans and other plaintiffs indicate 3M knew the earplug design was defective, 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.