Lawsuits are piling up. Hundreds of military veterans are filing suit against manufacturing company 3M. They claim their hearing loss was caused by defective ear plugs sold by the company.
Combat noise is a hazard for soldiers in training or fighting on the front lines on the ground, at sea and in the air. To protect their hearing, between 2003 and 2015 the United States government issued ‘dual ended combat arms ear plugs’ made by 3M, but hundreds of soldiers say the ear plugs didn’t work, and they’re paying the price.
“They were supposed to seal. Well, the veteran thought they were sealed. They created the illusion that they were hearing fine in the ear when they weren’t,” said Attorney Jay Miller, of the Peter Angelos Law Firm.
Miller filed its first lawsuit against 3M in February.
“We represent hundreds of veterans who have been traumatized for life who have permanent hearing loss,” Miller said.
The individual lawsuits come after 3M agreed to pay the U.S. government $9.1 million to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit last summer. The government claimed 3M knowingly sold the military defective ear plugs. There was no determination of liability.
Retired 1st Sgt. Matt Eversmann is not a party to the lawsuits, but has provided some expert advice on hearing loss. He knows what it’s like. He constantly turns up the sound on the television to hear it.
The decorated war hero was portrayed by Josh Hartnett in the 2001 film “Black Hawk Down.” The battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, on Oct. 3, 1993, is where Eversmann says he lost 60% of his hearing. He said they only had old-fashioned foam earplugs then. As a result, he wears hearing aids in both ears.
Eversmann is a motivational speaker and advocates for veterans on the issue of hearing loss.
“The battlefield is a loud place. It’s a loud place to work. Gunfire is loud. Machine-gun fire is loud. Bombs are loud. Mortars are loud and (improvised explosive devices) are loud, to the point where your molars will shake at the sounds you experience on the battlefield,” Eversmann said.
11 News contacted 3M about the allegations. The company replied with a statement, saying, “3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world and their safety is our priority. We deny this product was defectively designed and will defend against the allegations in these lawsuits through the legal process.”
Soldiers report hearing loss and tinnitus, as well.
“It’s constant, annoying, like bad staticky radio turned up really loud on both sides of your head,” Eversmann said.
Dr. David Eisenman, associate professor and director of the Otology, Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said the area that houses the cochlea is an essential organ for hearing. He said damage to the area is not always evident right away, and can initially be apparent.
“Years down the line, there are changes that were initiated at the first bout of noise damage that will then present progressive loss where you have difficulty understanding people,” Eisenman said.
Eversmann says he was given the 3M ear plugs during service between 2006 and 2007, but since his hearing was already damaged in 1993, he felt there was no point in suing. But he believes it is important to encourage others to get involved.
“If they wore the defective hearing protection, they should throw their hat in this and have it investigated, because all you’re going to get from the VA, at best, is a new hearing aid,” Eversmann said.