By Steve Seidman
Many military veterans may have suffered hearing injuries as a result of being issued allegedly defective earplugs designed and sold by 3M Company, and Aearo Technologies, a company that 3M later purchased.
Hearing injuries, including hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears), are incredibly common among veterans. The Veterans Administration has found that hearing injury is the most common type of service-connected disability. According to data collected by the VA, over half of combat soldiers display moderately severe hearing loss. Hearing injury has been described as the signature injury of post-9/11 U.S. military service.
From 2003 through 2015, 3M/- Aearo had a contract to provide earplugs to the U.S. military. In 2016, a whistleblower brought a lawsuit against 3M, revealing several shocking allegations about 3M’s earplugs, the Combat Arms™ earplugs. In July 2018, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle this case. We have been able to learn the following whistleblower’s allegations:
The Combat Arms™ earplugs were two-sided. In theory, one side, the “open” yellow side, would allow the user to hear some noises while blocking especially intense sounds. The other side, the “closed” olive-colored side, was supposed to block or greatly reduce all sounds.
Earplugs have strict testing requirements, and testing of the Combat Arms™ earplugs began in 2000. 3M/Aero apparently stopped testing of the closed end due to the earplugs’ failing results. The open side did no better than the closed side: The open side not only failed testing, but unbelievably, the ear- plugs were found to amplify sound – making noises louder.
3M/Aearo allegedly discovered in early 2000 that these problems were due to a simple design defect that caused the earplugs to become loose in the user’s ear canal. Instead of fixing the simple problem, 3M/Aearo allegedly chose to put its thumb on the scale: allegedly manipulating the earplugs during testing, in order to pass. The defect, and the invalid manipulated testing, was allegedly concealed by 3M/Aearo so that they could receive the exclusive government contract to supply these types of earplugs to the U.S. military.
Soldiers using these earplugs from 2003 through 2015 have been subjected to intense noise exposure without effective hearing protection.
This has presumably caused hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) in large numbers of individuals. These allegations suggest that 3M/Aearo may have valued profit over the welfare of our service members, knowingly causing U.S. troops to experience loud impact sounds from weaponry, as well as long-duration noise exposure associated with machinery, vehicles, and aircraft, without effective earplugs.
Simply put, 3M allegedly deprived service members of earplugs that worked.
Nationwide, veterans have been bringing lawsuits against 3M for their hearing injuries, including hearing loss and tinnitus.
My firm is preparing to file a group of these cases in Federal Court. Many of these cases will eventually be consolidated in Federal Court in the Northern District of Florida, under the watch of experienced mass torts judge, Honorable M. Casey Rodgers.
I recommend that veterans who used these earplugs, and who suffered auditory injuries, contact attorneys immediately.
Attorney Steve Seidman is a partner in the law firm Seidman Margulies & Fairman and is an advisory board member of America’s Heroes Group.