U.S. Military veterans are filing lawsuits across the country over faulty earplugs that put them at risk of long-term health problems.

The earplugs in question are the Combat Arms Earplugs developed and manufactured by 3M. The company designed these dual-sided earplugs to dampen high-intensity combat noise. They were also supposed to allow the sound of speech through. According to the Military Times, the earplugs were defective and allowed dangerously loud sounds to get through.

Did 3M Know About the Defect in the Earplugs?

The military agreed to buy the earplugs from 3M in 2006. The contract guaranteed the company $9 million in sales in that year alone. The earplugs were distributed to thousands of soldiers on active duty throughout the world. Documents uncovered in one of the lawsuits reveal that 3M knew the earplugs were ineffective as early as 2000.

According to the lawsuit, 3M tested the earplugs and found them inadequate. Nonetheless, they faked the certifications necessary to sell their product to the military. The did not stop production until 2015.

The Justice Department Settlement with 3M

In 2018, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle claims by the government over the defective earplugs. The government brought claims against the company under the False Claims Act. They argued that 3M knew their product was defective but failed to inform the U.S. military.

Although the earplugs were discontinued in 2015, they were not recalled, so the defective product may still be in use by current soldiers.

The Damage Caused by Defective Earplugs

Many of the soldiers who used the defective 3M earplugs returned home with long-term health issues. These problems included hearing loss and tinnitus.

Noise-induced hearing loss is common among people who are exposed to loud noises, especially when they lack proper hearing protection. Although in severe cases the effects may be immediate, hearing loss often develops slowly over time.

Soldiers exposed to explosive blasts using the defective 3M earplugs were particularly vulnerable.

Common symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss include:

Thousands of soldiers using the defective earplugs have also complained about tinnitus. Tinnitus is a disorder that causes a continuous or intermittent ringing, hissing, or buzzing sound in your ears.

Tinnitus was already a significant problem for the military and is one of the most common disabilities among veterans. Tinnitus can often be mild and the symptoms may come and go. In many cases, however, tinnitus can be constant and debilitating.

In severe cases, the constant ringing caused by tinnitus takes a heavy psychological toll. In turn, this causes problems such as insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

Although there are treatments available for tinnitus, it is not completely curable.

3M Lawsuits Allege Long-Term Hearing Problems Caused by Defective Earplugs

Although 3M has settled with the U.S. government, many veterans are still suing the company. Many veterans have brought claims over the long-term problems caused by the defective combat earplugs.

Veterans who returned from service with hearing loss or tinnitus accuse 3M of gross negligence because 3M knew about the defect and failed to disclose it. They assert that the company should pay punitive damages because they knew the earplugs were ineffective, but covered it up and kept selling to the military.

The company, for its part, may raise the defense of immunity as a government contractor. This defense would get them off the hook if they prove that they met the government’s specifications and gave adequate warning of any problems.

Significant Damages Are Possible If You’ve Been Injured

There could be a very large amount of compensation due to the veterans who were affected by the defective earplugs. Many of these veterans are young, in their 20’s or 30’s–much younger than the typical age when people suffer from hearing loss.

The affected soldiers may suffer from hearing problems for the rest of their lives, so the cost of continuing treatment could be enormous. 3M could be liable for a significant part of this bill if the veterans are successful in their claims.

Who is Eligible to Make a Claim?

You may have the right to sue 3M for compensation if:

An experienced earplug injury attorney can tell you whether you have a legitimate claim.