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Five Stunning Facts Connecting Soldiers Hearing Loss And Defective Military Earplugs

Overview

Minnesota-based company 3M forfeited over $9 million to the U.S. government last year as part of a settlement they knowingly supplied defective military earplugs between 2003-2015.

While many veterans are left without compensation, they’re also left without normal hearing.

As 3M admitted to no wrongdoing, former soldiers are now filing lawsuits against the conglomerate. These veterans suffer from tinnitus and 3M’s flawed Combat Arms Earplugs (CAEv2) are likely to blame.

The lawsuits allege 3M supplied the earplugs despite being aware of its faulty design and neglected to address or fix it. Hundreds of cases from around the country have been consolidated to the Northern District of Florida.

As 3M initially maintains its innocence, these five facts suggest the company’s negligence could end up costing it more.

No Proper Instructions or Sizing Was Provided

The underlying cause of 3M’s defective military earplugs is they didn't properly fit inside the ear canal. According to at least one lawsuit filed in Minnesota, 3M also failed to provide adequate instructions on how to properly use them.

The earplug's design was dual-ended with three flanges on each side and came in one standard size. According to the product description, one end was intended for complete blockage and the other end allowed verbal commands to be heard while blocking out external combat noises like gunfire and explosions.

Basic fitting instructions were to insert the product into the ear, but it didn’t specifically state users needed to fold back one or more of the flanges to ensure proper sealing depending on the size of their ear canal.

It’s also noted the earplug’s design was too short and didn't fully fit inside the ear canal to provide a tight of enough seal.

These Issues Were Known as Early as 2000

Aearo Technologies, the manufacturer of the earplugs before being acquired by 3M in 2008, was aware nearly two decades ago of the potential faultiness.

Product tests dating back to 2000 were conducted in-house and monitored by the company's own employees as opposed to controlled lab testing. This was a violation of proper testing protocol mandated by the U.S. government.

Furthermore, it’s alleged the company manipulated results by instructing test subjects to fold back the flanges on certain tests to achieve a passing result after initial trials failed. This is the very same instruction the company neglected to include in the product.

The doctored test results are believed to have helped qualify the company as the exclusive supplier of military-issued earplugs for the Department of Defense, an agreement worth millions of dollars.

Multiple lawsuits claim 3M was aware of these unethical practices when it absorbed Aearo but still continued to supply the defective military earplugs.

Tinnitus Is the Most Common Disability Among U.S. Veterans

The permanent hearing damage veterans have as a result of 3M’s negligence is tinnitus. This condition causes a person to hear internal ringing, buzzing or hissing when no external noise is taking place.

Tinnitus is the most frequent disability veterans claim, even more than post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Over 50 million Americans alone deal with Tinnitus, and over one million veterans currently receive disability benefits from it.

There is no cure other than monitoring the condition and creating treatment plans that make it more bearable. Unlike physical disabilities that impair movement, many soldiers fail to treat tinnitus upon returning home due to not recognizing its severity or infrequent occurrence.

The fact tinnitus is the most common postwar disability infers a reasonable expectation 3M should’ve taken as much precaution as possible to ensure its military-issued hearing protection was safe and effective.

A recent study conducted on tinnitus lawsuits in Florida show most civilian cases stem from malpractice or car accidents, a more indirect cause than 3M's defective product that was specifically designed to prevent this issue.

Hearing Loss From Defective Military Earplugs Could Lead to Further Complications

As veterans may deal with tinnitus studies have shown hearing damage, if not properly treated, could lead to memory problems found in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

Due to PTSD, veterans are at risk for potentially developing these mental conditions while already combating hearing issues. 

The inability to hear can cause cognitive decline due to stress from the brain trying to comprehend audio it can't initially understand. Additionally, this can lead to memory issues by impacting the way the brain processes and retains information while also causing anxiety from social isolation, according to AARP.

While these conditions can be treated with proactive measures, soldiers who used 3M's defective military earplugs could be at much greater risk for developing them long after serving due to unrealized hearing damage.

The Product is Discontinued, But Hasn’t Been Recalled

Perhaps the most concerning fact throughout 3M’s legal troubles is although the company ceased production of the defective military earplugs in 2015, there has yet to be an official recall.

This poses a serious risk for those still in possession of the product who may be unaware of the national case or potential hearing implications that could result from using it.

According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), any business that distributes consumer products has a legal obligation to report apparent defectiveness, specifically when it creates “an unreasonable risk of serious injury” such as tinnitus.

The CPSC allows a business to withhold publicly disclosing a recall notification for a faulty product until a written action plan is established. The fact though nearly four years have passed since the earplugs stopped being produced suggests this lack of action is to parallel 3M's claim of no wrongdoing.

Are You Affected?

Did you serve in the U.S. armed forces between 2003-2015 while using defective military earplugs supplied by 3M?

If you or a loved one are dealing with hearing loss damage or tinnitus you could be entitled to compensation. You are not alone, veterans around the country are coming together with military earplug lawsuits to let their voices be heard.

We can help find you find the right legal team to take on your case. Contact us with your information to learn more.

James Beltz