A 40-year-old Texas veteran who is now a detective in a local police department has filed a product liability lawsuit against 3M Company alleging that it manufactured defectively designed earplugs for use by U.S. military personnel between 2002 and 2013.
The lawsuit is focused on the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs. The lawsuit was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Waco. The plaintiff is a combat veteran of the Iraq war.
Defective Military Earplugs
In his lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that 3M knowingly designed, manufactured and sold the defective earplugs that caused him to develop tinnitus, hearing loss and loss of balance. It’s also alleged that the defendant failed to warn earplug users of the product’s defects while also failing to provide proper instructions for their use. At a recent news conference, the veteran remarked that “We have a company here that lied, that took our well-being for jeopardy, while we’re out there protecting the country. Now, every day, I have to live with a high-pitched frequency in my ear that’s deafening at times. I’m never at peace.” 3M says that it has a long history of serving the U.S. military, and it has denied the allegations in the lawsuit.
As per the plaintiff’s attorneys, the design defect is at the stem of each earplug. They maintain that they’re too short, and their lack of length makes it difficult for users to plug them into their ear canals properly. In light of that, the earplugs loosen imperceptibly, and sound penetrates the canals around the plug.
3M Lawsuit Began With A Whistleblower
This isn’t the first indication that 3M had of the allegedly faulty earplugs. According to wral.com, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit pursuant to the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act against 3M alleging that the company knew that the earplug stems were too short for proper insertion. The lawsuit also alleged that although 3M knew of this defect, it failed to disclose it to the military. The False Claims Act allows private parties to sue in cases like this on the federal government’s behalf when they have reason to believe that false claims were made. Without admitting liability, 3M reached a $9.1 million settlement wAct the Department of Justice in July of 2018. Since the False Claims act allows whistleblowers to share in proceeds derived from certain settlements, that whistleblower will receive more than $1.9 million.
The impact of hearing loss injuries from military service is significant. The U.S. Veterans Administration estimates that about 52 percent of all veterans suffer from service-related hearing loss. The hearing disorders go all of the way to the top. One retired Army General said it “sounds like a chorus of probably 10,000 cicadas on my shoulders 24 hours a day.” He went on to say that he expects to live the rest of his life with the hearing disorder that was probably aggravated by using the earplugs for many years.