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Veterans Describe Life with Hearing Loss Amid Mounting 3M Earplug Suits

Apr 1, 2019

As we discussed in a recent blog post, numerous veterans and service members across the country have been filing federal civil lawsuits against 3M Company, the Minnesota-based conglomerate responsible for what plaintiffs claim were defective standard-issue military earplugs.

According to many of the veterans who have filed or are planning to file suit, 3M’s dual-ended CAEv2 earplugs were defectively designed and manufactured. Though 3M paid over $9 million to settle a False Claims Act whistleblower case in July of 2018 over the earplugs, 3M’s out-of-court settlement means the allegations brought by the DoJ were never actually proven in court.

That case – in which the Justice Department alleged 3M knowingly sold earplugs with dangerous design defects that hindered their effectiveness – has given rise to the onslaught of lawsuits being filed around the nation today, which must now prove the earplugs were defective and that 3M did in fact know of those defects, but failed to report them or fix the problem.

The plaintiffs behind those suits, a recent CBS News feature shows, are military members and veterans who’ve suffered a range of physical and emotional injuries – sometimes in devastatingly painful and life-altering ways.

Life with Hearing Loss, Tinnitus: “It’s Torture”

CBS’ article follows the stories of two U.S. Army vets who served for three and six years. As soldiers in the post-9/11 era, both relied on the standard-issue 3M Combat Arms Earplugs to provide much-needed hearing protecting during training exercises and time in active combat zones.

Both soldiers commented on how they were instructed to use the earplugs, purportedly the best available, to save their hearing from high-decibel sounds produced by machinery, firearms, and large-scale weaponry – all of which can cause permanent hearing impairment to unshielded ears. It was their “basic expectation” to rely on their equipment, they said.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t how it worked. The two vets, like many others, found out those earplugs didn’t do much to protect their hearing, leaving them with lasting injuries that hindered their ability to integrate into post-service life. Both vets filed claims, alleging 3M didn’t adequately warn them about the earplugs or how to wear them. Citing 3M’s settlement with the DOJ, they noted how 3M’s conduct:

“…wasn’t an omission. It was something missed. It was deliberately lying to gain money and hurting our service members.”

Both vets recalled how the earplugs seemed like they may have worked for some soldiers, presumably ones with larger ear canals, but failed miserably for others. Being “too short” to be inserted properly and prone to becoming loose without a user’s knowledge, as the DoJ alleged, the earplugs could be inserted into some ears and provide almost no protection. Soldiers who heard everything with their unprotected ears had so many things to worry about when using them, such as their own safety and the safety of their fellow soldiers, that they simply went on with their tasks and missions.

While their hearing may have understandably been low on the totem pole while in combat, the effects of the partial hearing loss and tinnitus, described as chronic ringing or hissing in the ears that can worsen when background noises cease, are tremendous. As one puts it:

"What is quiet? What's peace? I know for me personally, I don't have it. All I hear is ringing when there's no noise around me. If I don’t have noise around me, it's maddening. It’s torture."

According to the VA, tinnitus is one of the most common disabilities among veterans, with nearly 3 million former military members receiving benefits for it. Being exposed to extreme levels of sound, soldiers face significant risks of suffering permanent hearing. While the two vets profiled by CBS, along with many others like them, are seeking recompense for their damages and suffering, no amount of money will bring back their hearing or silence their tinnitus. What these vets want most is to ensure that justice is served, and to send a clear message to 3M and other product makers to do right by those who use their products..

If you have questions about a potential 3M earplug lawsuit, the legal team at Bailey Cowan Heckaman PLLC is actively reviewing cases from veterans, service members, and families across the U.S. Call (888) 367-7160 or contact us online to request a free consultation.

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