Hundreds of veterans across the United States are filing lawsuits against 3M, claiming their hearing loss was caused by defective ear plugs manufactured by the company.
Combat noise is a serious hazard for soldiers who are training or fighting. Between 2003 and 2015, the U.S. government took steps to protect their hearing by issuing “dual-ended combat arms earplugs” manufactured by 3M.
Hundreds of soldiers are now claiming that the earplugs didn’t work, and they’ve suffered hearing loss as a result. The defective design allegedly causes hearing loss, tinnitus and a loss of balance. By the end of the fiscal year 2015, there were 2.6 million veterans receiving disability benefits for tinnitus and hearing loss, according to a Veterans Administration study.
In 2018, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knew of the defective design as early as 2000. Under the agreement, there was no determination of liability. 3M maintains that its earplugs are not defectively designed and plans to defend allegations in the lawsuits through the legal process.
The company’s Combat Arms Earplugs were first issued in 2003, in the early stages of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, to protect service members from debilitating noise. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the company that originally manufactured the earplugs, Aearo Technologies, knew that they were “too short for proper insertion” into the ears and could potentially loosen imperceptibly. Aearo Technologies was purchased by 3M in 2008.
The earplug’s seal would break without the user even knowing it. The alleged defective design exposed veterans to loud noises from aircraft and heavy artillery, which can cause significant hearing loss.
The company has denied these allegations, claiming that their earplugs were designed in “close collaboration” with the military and conform to the military’s specifications when “properly used.” 3M stopped making the earplugs in 2015, but they still provide ear protection to members of the military, including other types of earplugs.
In addition to hearing loss and tinnitus, many veterans also suffer from auditory processing disorder, which makes it difficult to understand speech. The condition has been linked to blast exposure.
Many veterans who are suffering from tinnitus also suffer from anxiety, depression or both. Veterans describe the condition as it sounding like there’s a constant, loud static radio on both sides of your head. The constant ringing or noise in the ears can be debilitating and lead to mental health conditions.
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