A former Army infantryman is one of the most recent United States veterans to file suit for hearing loss and tinnitus allegedly caused by defective 3M military earplugs.
George Dooley of Clarksville, Tennessee, was one of thousands of former servicemen and women issued the 3M Company’s Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) to protect their hearing from gunfire, explosions and other damaging impact sounds encountered in battlefield situations.
According to a complaint filed late last month in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee, he used the 3M military earplugs while firing weapons and riding in military vehicles when he was stationed in the United States and Germany. He also wore the devices while in training and in the field while deployed to Iraq from 2006 until 2008. (Case No. Case 3:19-mc-09999)
Dooley never suffered from any hearing-related disorders prior to being issued CAEv2, but was subsequently diagnosed with tinnitus upon retiring from the military in 2008. He currently suffers from hearing loss.
“Hearing loss and tinnitus have had a significant effect on Mr. Dooley’s enjoyment of life. The constant ringing in his ears interferes with his everyday conversations and affects his sleep,” his lawsuit states. “Frequently he has to talk loudly, have the TV playing, or have other noise on so he can try to cope with his tinnitus. The hearing loss and tinnitus are incurable and are likely to progressively get devastatingly worse during the course of Mr. Dooley’s life.”
The 3M Company’s dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were standard issue for all United States active duty military personnel from 2002 through 2015. The earplugs’ yellow end protected the wearer from damaging impact noises, while allowing the user to hear battlefield commands and other low-level sounds. The olive-green end functioned like a traditional earplug and blocked all sound.
According to hundreds of lawsuits filed on behalf of veterans like Dooley, the 3M military earplugs were defective and did not work as intended. Among other things, they claim the devices were too short to fit properly in certain individuals and could loosen without the wearer even noticing.
Plaintiffs further charge that the 3M Company and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc., were aware of these defects by 2000. But rather than correct the problems, they falsely certified that CAEv2 met all the standards of their exclusive contract with the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency.
On July 26, 2018, the 3M Company agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold defective Combat Arms Earplugs to the United States military. However, the company continues to deny the federal government’s allegations, and has yet to take any action to compensate veterans who may have been harmed by the devices.
United States veterans have filed more than 600 lawsuits over 3M Combat Arms earplugs since July 2018. The rapidly rising number of cases, and the fact that the devices were standard issue for over 10 years, suggests the litigation could eventually encompass thousands of similar claims.
Last week, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) agreed to centralize all federally-filed personal injury claims involving 3M military earplugs in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida, for coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings.