If you are one of the 2,694,980 U.S. service members who have suffered from ringing in the ears or other forms of hearing loss, the noise on the battlefield may not be the only cause. Military ear plugs have recently come under fire for failing to pass government safety tests, which resulted in a $9.1 million whistleblower lawsuit paid to the U.S. government under the False Claims Act.
Combat Arms Earplugs™ were created by Aearo Technologies and later acquired by 3M in 2008. This form of military hearing protection was standard issue in foreign conflicts for more than a decade, from 2002 to 2016, including:
- The War in Afghanistan
- The Iraq War
- The War on Terror in North-West Pakistan
- The War in Somalia
- Operation Ocean Shield in the Indian Ocean
- American-led interventions in Libya (2011-present)
- American-led intervention in Iraq (2014-2017)
- American-led intervention in Syria (2014-present)
- Yemeni Civil War (2015-present)
The U.S. Department of Justice contends that employees knew as early as 2000 – years before the ear plugs became standard issue to the military – that there was a defect in the design. The inverted cone shape was intended to perform two functions – to block extremely loud noises in the blocked position and to block all sounds in the closed position. The short stem of the earplugs did not fit deep enough into the ear canal to stay wedged and therefore loosened over time, allowing dangerous sounds from gunfire, explosions, and equipment to cause hearing damage. The lawsuit alleged that test results were falsified to state that the ear plugs for hearing protection passed – when, in fact, they did not.
Showard Law Firm is no stranger to medical device lawsuits. Contact our experienced firm to explore your legal claim.
Primary side effects
The defective 3M military ear plugs have caused two primary medical issues among users: tinnitus and hearing loss.
Commonly referred to as “ringing in the ears,” tinnitus can actually take many forms – from crickets, hissing, and screeching, to buzzing, ringing, and roaring like ocean waves. The American Tinnitus Association has a playlist of sounds that tinnitus sufferers hear on a daily basis, which you can use to compare to what you are experiencing. Tinnitus may be tonal, pulsatile, or musical. With tonal tinnitus, the sound is nearly constant, but the perceived volume fluctuates, depending on how much noise is in the room. Pulsatile tinnitus beats in time with your heartbeat, while rare musical tinnitus repeats in a constant loop.
Hearing loss can be instant when caused by trauma, but more commonly, it is a gradual manifestation. For many of the millions of U.S. military veterans treated for hearing loss each year, the symptoms can take a decade or longer to appear. You may suddenly find yourself: asking people to repeat themselves, having difficulty following group conversations, becoming agitated when people say they cannot hear or understand you, watching speakers’ mouths when they talk, turning your head to hear better, shouting or mumbling inappropriately, expressing difficulty enunciating, and experiencing chronic fatigue.
FDA history, action, and recall information
Though 3M has agreed to a settlement with the U.S. government, they have yet to admit liability or wrongdoing. The FDA website lists 45 recalled 3M products — from ankle braces and surgical clippers to gauze and surgical tape — but their military ear protection is not mentioned. No medical device recalls are listed for Aearo Technologies, either. While an FDA recall helps in defective device lawsuits, it is not necessary to file and win compensation.
About Manufacturer 3M
This is not the first multi-billion-dollar liability lawsuit fielded by the Minnesota-based manufacturer. In February 2018, they settled with the state of Michigan for $850 million for dumping hazardous perfluorinated chemicals in Cottage Grove, Lake Elmo, Oakdale, St. Paul Park, and Woodbury, allegedly causing increased levels of cancer, leukemia, premature birth, and low fertility among local citizens. Following the settlement, the states of New York and Michigan similarly filed suit, along with individuals living in these parts of the country. All told, their liability is estimated to reach into the billions.
Military Ear Plug Lawsuit Settlement Amounts
As of January 2019, the $9.1 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice is the only amount paid. Showard Law Firm has been receiving phone calls from military service members and veterans who have learned of the settlement and want to know if they have grounds for individual compensation. The answer is: “YES!” We anticipate there will be a large number of cases popping up all across the country.
A defective device lawsuit could result in compensation to cover your:
- Past, present, and future estimated medical bills
- The cost of ongoing therapy
- The cost of hearing aids and assistive technology
- Lost wages and loss of future earning potential
- Emotional pain, suffering, and anguish caused by the disability
- Loss of hobbies and enjoyment in life.
In cases such as this, where many similar lawsuits are filed based on the same common facts, it is common to see the formation of Multi-District Litigation. Through this process, the U.S. Judicial Panel consolidates cases for streamlined discovery. Several cases are selected as early bellwether trials to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the central argument. Sometimes a judge throws out the case if there is not enough evidence, but more commonly, the manufacturer will agree to settle with plaintiffs ahead of the trial or will take the gamble in court. Unlike class action lawsuits which pay each individual the same sum of money, MDL lawsuits allow plaintiffs individual hearings and compensation based on the unique merits of each case. Contact Showard Law Firm for details on the evolution of a 3M mass tort. You may also check the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation website for an update on pending MDLs.
Consultations with Showard Law Firm Are Always Free!
If you have suffered the devastating effects of veteran hearing loss or tinnitus, Showard Law Firm is here for you! Initial consultations to determine if you should file a lawsuit cost you nothing. In fact, our plaintiffs do not pay a dime for legal services until we win money on their behalf. While a lawsuit cannot restore your hearing, the compensation can ensure you receive the best possible care and it sends the message that military service members deserve respect. Manufacturers who sell unsafe products will be held accountable! We were rated one of the “Top 10 Best Law Firms” for client satisfaction by the American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys in 2018. Contact us for exceptional service and results.
Additional defective combat arms ear plugs lawsuit resources:
- WBAL, Veterans’ hearing loss symptoms might not arise until decades later, https://www.wbaltv.com/article/veterans-hearing-loss-symptoms-might-not-arise-until-decades-later/24893642
- American Tinnitus Association, https://www.ata.org/understanding-facts/symptoms
- Pace Law Library, 3M Settles Lawsuit with the State of Minnesota Over Dumping of PFCs, https://lawlibrary.blogs.pace.edu/2018/02/26/3m-settles-lawsuit-with-the-state-of-minnesota-over-dumping-of-pfcs/
- Reuters, 3M to pay $9.1 million over defective military ear plugs, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-3m-defense-earplugs/3m-to-pay-91-million-over-defective-military-ear-plugs-idUSKBN1KG25Q