A United States Marine Corps veteran has filed a lawsuit for hearing loss allegedly caused by 3M Combat Arms Earplugs.
According a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Central District of California, on January 15th, Andrew Bridges enlisted with the Marines in 2006. He was deployed to Iraq in 2009, where he was issued 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) to protect his eardrums from gunfire and other damaging concussive sound. (Case No. Case 2:19-cv-00327)
Among other things, Bridges claims that he had no symptoms of hearing loss or tinnitus when he joined the Marine Corps. However, he was diagnosed with hearing loss in July 2010 and discharged from the Marines just a month later.
CAEv2 were developed by Aearo Technologies, Inc., which was acquired by the 3M Company in 2008. Between 2003 and 2015, the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency purchased and issued millions of these earplugs to military personnel serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zones around the world.
The “selective attenuation earplugs” featured an olive-colored end that worked as a traditional earplug. The yellow end allowed users to hear normal speech and other low-level sounds, but blocked gunfire, explosions, and other concussive sounds.
However, Bridges’ 3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuit alleges the devices were too short and could loosen while in use. The loosening is imperceptible and exposes users to a risk of permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, and eardrum ruptures.
Bridges further alleges that Aearo Technologies and 3M were aware of this defect by 200 and asserts they used flawed testing methods to determine the earplugs’ Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). However, the 3M Company did not disclose this information to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency and failed to provide users with proper insertion instructions or warnings.
“Defendant sold the Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs to the U.S. military for more than a decade without the military and/or Plaintiff having any knowledge of the defect(s) and failed to adequately warn the military and/or Plaintiff of the defect(s),” the complaint states. “Defendant’s Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs were standard issue in certain branches of the military (including Plaintiff’s) between at least 2003 to at least 2015. Thus, Defendant’s Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs have likely caused thousands, if not millions, of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss, tinnitus, and additional injuries related to hearing loss, including but not limited to pain and suffering and loss of the pleasures of the pleasures of life.
This isn’t the first time the 3M Company has faced legal action over CAEv2.
In fact, just last July, the company settled a 3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice for $9.1 million.
The whistleblower complaint was initially filed by a 3M competitor under the federal False Claims Act, which allows a private party to sue contractors for fraud committed against the United States government.
The allegations bear a striking similarity to those put forth in Bridges’ 3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuit.
For its part, 3M denies wrongdoing and asserts it only settled the whistleblower lawsuit to avoid the inconvenience of litigation.