Use of 3M Combat Earplugs Sent to Military Result in Hearing Loss & Tinnitus
I spent more than 20 years of service in the United States Marine Corps, as first active duty and then reserve until retiring in 2017. I have been practicing law, first in the USMC and then in private practice, for more than 20 years. A good portion of my law practice has been representing service members and holding companies accountable for designing and selling defective products. Those two passions have melded with the recent revelation that 3M paid the Department of Justice over $9 million following the DOJ filing a lawsuit alleging that 3M knowingly supplied defective earplugs to active service members serving in combat situations.
3M is facing a large number of lawsuits filed against them by current and retired military service members and their legal teams. The company is accused of selling defective earplugs to the United States Armed Forces, which were distributed to service members within the years of 2003 to 2015. As a result, countless service members are now suffering from hearing loss and tinnitus.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), more than 1,000,000 veterans in 2016 received disability compensation for hearing loss treatments. Another 1,610,000 plus received similar benefits for tinnitus treatments. VA statistics show a clear rise in hearing loss and tinnitus cases among veterans and service members between 2003 and 2015, the same years the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs were being used primarily among the branches of the U.S. military. The same data shows a decline starting in 2016.
I am proud to be leading the charge for McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP product liability lawyers. Under my direction and passion for protecting the rights of our country’s protectors, we are investigating defective 3M earplug claims from military veterans as more information becomes available. It is our mission to secure compensation from 3M for any and all military service members who come to our law firm for counsel.
Are the Earplugs Proven to Be Defective?
3M settled a 2018 False Claims Act case against them for $9.1 million. The case was filed on behalf of the United States military and alleged 3M sold the Combat Arms Earplugs without any warning of their defects. The earplugs were designed too short and would loosen or fall out unexpectedly. Internal 3M documents in that case showed 3M knew of the problem as early as 2000.
Despite the company’s information about the earplugs defects, they were still sold and distributed for more than a decade. United States military service members in several Armed Forces branches and who served in a variety of engagements unknowingly relied on the defective 3M earplugs.
Military service members in the following engagements were likely supplied with 3M Combat Arms Earplugs:
- The Iraq War
- War in Afghanistan
- War in North-West Pakistan
- War in Somalia
- Operation Ocean Shield
- American-led intervention in Libya (2011; 2015 to present day)
- American-led intervention in Iraq (2014 to 2017)
- American-led Intervention in Syria (2014 to present day)
- Yemeni Civil War (2015 to present day)
How Do You Know If You Were Provided a Defective 3M Earplug?
Only a specific type of 3M Combat Arms Earplugs are defective and linked to service member hearing loss. The earplugs in question are yellow-and-drab-green level dependent earplugs with a filter. Each earplug is dual-ended, meaning either the yellow or drab-green conical side could be inserted into the ear. The defective 3M earplugs were provided to service members only between 2003 and December 2015.
If you were given and used earplugs that fit the description and time frame, and you now experience tinnitus, unilateral hearing loss, or bilateral hearing loss, you likely have a claim. Tinnitus is characterized by ringing or buzzing in the ears or head. It may be constant, frequent, or random.
If You Have Hearing Loss or Tinnitus & Were Provided the Defective Earplugs, Does That Mean You Have a Valid Claim?
No, not necessarily. Of course, if service members did not use the supplied defective earplugs, then the earplugs would not be the cause of the hearing loss or tinnitus. Also, there could be instances where exposure to dangerous levels of noise before or after serving could be the cause of hearing loss or tinnitus.
Other additional causes of hearing loss unrelated to noise could include:
- Alport syndrome
- Branchiootorenal syndrome
- Meniere’s disease
- Pendred syndrome
- Stickler syndrome
- Usher syndrome
- Waardenburg syndrome
Each of these conditions can develop symptoms of hearing loss and tinnitus. Due to difficulties with diagnosing the source of hearing loss, a preexisting condition can complicate your case.
Dangerous Hearing Level Exposure Based on MOS
According to VA information regarding noise exposure levels in military service, a significant number of military occupational specialty (MOS) codes or positions are exposed to damaging noise levels regularly. Service members holding these MOS codes are “highly probable” to suffer hearing loss related to their duties. Being provided ineffective earplugs only increases that probability.
To name only a few of the MOS considered to be “highly probable” for hearing loss*:
- Infantryman, Army Enlisted, 11B
- Combat Arms Generalist, Army Officers, 02A
- Aviation Aircrewman (Mechanical), Navy Enlisted, 78, AWF
- Security and Police, Navy Officers, Sciences and Services, 2700-2799
- Field Artillery, Marine Corps, 08XX, O
- Loadmaster, Air Force Enlisted, 1A2X1
- Operations Commander, Air Force Officers, 10C0
- Machinery Technician, Coast Guard, MK
- Boatswaines Mate, Merchant Marine, BM
It is important to keep in mind that service members in “low” probability MOS classifications may still suffer relevant hearing loss due to being provided defective earplugs. I personally served with an E-8 27D Legal Specialist who spent much of his military career in the 82nd Airborne Division and on firing ranges. Even in this position, he was regularly exposed to sound levels that are known to cause hearing loss.
(* You can view and download an Excel spreadsheet of MOS codes compared hearing loss probability by clicking here. This information may be subject to change, as it is currently unavailable through official VA websites.)
How You Can File a 3M Earplug Lawsuit
The False Claims Act case was filed on behalf of the government. It does not benefit service members who have been affected by the defective 3M Combat Arms Earplugs. Individual service members must file their own claims to seek compensation for caused damages, like medical costs, pain and suffering, and a lessened enjoyment of life.
At McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP, our 3M earplug claims and lawsuits are being led by Attorney Cory Weck. As a recently-retired Major of the United States Marine Corps, Attorney Weck feels a direct connection to those affected by 3M’s actions. If you are a military service member, retired or actively serving, you know you can trust our premier complex litigation firm with your case. We will work tirelessly on your behalf until justice is served and compensation is provided for your injuries and damages.
Contact our firm at (909) 345-8110 to arrange a FREE consultation.