A Navy veteran who served four combat tours has filed suit against the 3M Company, alleging the military earplugs he used while on active duty were defective and permanently damaged his hearing.
According to a complaint filed in Wyoming federal court on August 19th, Steven Mayo joined the Navy in 2003. He subsequently served two tours in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq, during which time he was issued 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2. The military earplugs Mayo received were intended to protect his eardrums from gunfire, explosions, and other concussive sounds typically encountered in combat. (Case No. 1:19-cv-00173-SWS)
“Plaintiff was issued a pair of Combat Arms earplugs while in Iraq,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff underwent two tours in Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan where he was a member of the U.S. Navy SEABEES. During his deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan and during military training and combat exercises, plaintiff was continuously exposed to loud noises and explosions.”
Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were developed by Aero Technologies, Inc., which won an exclusive contract to supply military earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency in 2002. 3M Company acquired Aero in 2008, as well as the exclusive contract.
According to Mayo’s lawsuit, Combat Arms Earplugs could be worn in an open or blocked position. When the yellow end was inserted, wearers were ostensibly protected from damaging concussive sounds, yet able to hear battle commands and other low-level noises. The green end performed like a traditional earplug and blocked all sound.
However, Mayo claims that because of the earplugs’ alleged defects, he was left unprotected.
“Because the defect was imperceptible to the wearer, [Aearo’s] design defect went undetected for more than a decade by the U.S. military and those who wore them. It is thus not surprising that hearing damage is now the largest ongoing medical cost the military incurs each year,” the complaint asserts. “The VA thus spends more than $1 billion per year to treat hearing damage suffered by more than 800,000 servicemen.”
Mayo received an honorable discharge from the Navy in 2014. He was diagnosed with tinnitus, a condition that causes buzzing or ringing in the ear, at the age of 34.
More than 2,050 United States military veterans have filed 3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuits similar to Mayo’s. The majority of these claims have been centralized in a multidistrict litigation now underway in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida.
All of the plaintiffs allege that Aero Technologies was aware by 2000 that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, suffered from serious defects. However, rather than mitigate these problems or warn users, Aero and the 3M Company manipulated test results and falsely certified that the devices met all standards of the military contract.
Their claims echo allegations asserted in a whistleblower complaint recently filed by a 3M Company competitor, which ultimately resulted in a $9.1 million settlement with the federal government in July 2018. However, the settlement agreement did not require 3M to admit fault or compensate any veterans who may have been harmed. In fact, the company continues to deny that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were in any way defective.