Hundreds of military veterans sue over defective earplugs

In the military, proper hearing protection is an absolute necessity. The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that regular exposure to any sound over 85 decibels is likely to cause hearing loss. A 9mm pistol, one of the least powerful guns on the market, produces 160 decibels when fired. That is loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage after just a few unprotected exposures.

Now, hundreds of product liability lawsuits are being filed on behalf of veterans, alleging that their hearing was affected by defective combat earplugs. The 3M Combat Arms Earplug Version 2 (CAEv2) was a dual-ended plug that could either work as a traditional earplug, blocking all noise, or could be flipped into the opposite position to reduce loud noise.

The lawsuits allege that the company designed the earplugs in a way that caused them to loosen while being worn. As a result, soldiers were exposed to far higher levels of sound than the manufacturer advertised. Furthermore, the company failed to warn users of the defect or provide proper instructions for using their earplugs.

According to the lawsuits, the defective earplugs caused hearing loss and a ringing in the ears, called tinnitus. The plugs were used in both training and combat, and may have affected more than 800,000 former service members.

3M previously agreed to pay a $9.1 million settlement to resolve Department of Defense after allegations that the earplugs were sold to the military for more than a decade without warning they were defective. The U.S. Department of Justice alleged that Aearo Technologies employees, which joined 3M after it acquired Aearo in 2008, knew about the design problems as early as 2000 when it completed testing of the earplugs. The company is alleged to have falsified certifications showing that the earplugs were fit for use.

Many veterans are now seeking damages from 3M after developing hearing issues.

Individuals who were discharged before January 2015, and have experienced serious hearing loss after using the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) during deployment or training should contact Allen & Allen to see if they qualify for financial compensation.