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A Pennsylvania U.S. Marine sergeant recently filed a new 3M dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. He claims that after using these earplugs during his service in the military, he suffered serious injuries.

Plaintiff Wears Earplugs While in Iraq—Suffers Hearing Loss

According to his complaint, the plaintiff joined the military in 1995 at 20 years old. Prior to that time, he had no signs or symptoms of hearing loss or tinnitus.

From 1995 to 1997, the plaintiff served in the United States Marine Corp reserve in Pennsylvania where he performed weather equipment repair work. He later switched to aircraft maintenance.

From May 2001 to November 2007, the plaintiff served on reserve duty as part of the Army National Guard at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. During that time, he was deployed to Iraq for an 18-month period, where he regularly used the standard issue 3M Dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs, while servicing the electronic systems in military helicopters, and while working around loud, propeller-generated aircraft.

The plaintiff was recently diagnosed with partial hearing loss and tinnitus in both ears. His doctor has advised him to wear hearing aids. The plaintiff blames the defective design of the earplugs for his injuries.

Plaintiff Wears Earplugs While in Iraq—Suffers Hearing Loss

The 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs are designed to provide soldiers with two different levels of sound protection depending on how they are worn. When positioned with the olive-colored side in the user’s ear—called the “closed” position—the earplugs were intended to block out as much sound as possible. When positioned with the yellow-colored side in the ear—the “open” position—the earplugs were supposed to block out loud noises like explosions and artillery fire, while still allowing softer noises like spoken commands to be heard.

The design of the earplugs, however, prevented a snug fit into the ear canal of some wearers, which reduced the level of hearing protection the user received. 3M never warned users about this defect, however, leaving thousands of military personnel at risk for developing hearing damage and tinnitus.

A company called Aearo Technologies, which was acquired by 3M in 2008, created the earplugs. Employees at Aearo started testing them in January 2000. They discovered the defect then, but rather than correct it, they manually manipulated the earplugs to secure a better fit to improve the testing results so the earplugs could pass the military’s testing standards.

The company never warned users, however, that they needed to manipulate the earplugs in this way to get a proper fit. Their instructions simply directed the user to insert the earplug normally, leaving hearing unprotected. The company also misrepresented the results gathered during testing for the “open” position.

On July 16, 2018, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations it knowingly sold Dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs to the U.S. military without disclosing defects that affected hearing protection.

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