Veterans claim defective 3M earplugs caused hearing loss, ringing in ears: “It is torture”

Hundreds of military veterans are expected to file lawsuits against the manufacturing company 3M, claiming it knowingly sold defective earplugs. These complaints come after the Justice Department settled a lawsuit with the company in July over allegations the company defrauded the government by selling earplugs with “dangerous design defects” to the military for “more than a decade.”

3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to the government, but admitted no liability. CBS News’ Dr. Jon LaPook spoke with servicemen who deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they were in close proximity to small arms, heavy artillery and rockets. Until that 3M settlement, they believed their hearing loss was par for the course.

Joseph Junk and David Hendersen served in the U.S. military for three and six years respectively. Junk said he joined the Army as part of family tradition and Hendersen felt a duty to his country after 9/11. They both relied on earplugs to protect them in training and combat.

“We were told these devices are gonna save our hearing and that’s what we did. We used them,” Hendersen said. So did Junk. “I mean, the basic expectation is that you can rely on your training and your equipment … Everybody was just under the impression that these particular earplugs were doing their job,” he said.

“We’ve just been told that, ‘This is the equipment you get and it’s the best out there. It’s gonna save your hearing,’ Junk said. “Later on, we found out that it didn’t really protect our hearing that much at all.”

A joint lawsuit filed by the government and by a competitor of 3M, the manufacturer of the earplugs, alleged 3M was aware prior to selling the earplugs to the military that testing procedures and fitting instructions were unlawfully manipulated. It also claimed they sold the plugs from 2003 to 2015 “without disclosing the design defect.”

“It wasn’t an omission. It wasn’t something missed. It was deliberately lying to gain money and hurting our service members,” Hendersen said.

Last month, Junk and Hendersen filed civil complaints against 3M, claiming the company “did not adequately warn of the defects or adequately warn how to wear the earplugs.”

“From what I remember, guys would put them in and, like, they had bigger ear canals so it would go all the way in and sort of get stuck in there or you had guys that would put them in and still be able to hear everything,” Hendersen recalled. “But you have so many other things to worry about you know, particular to safety or your … physical well-being.”

With so many other things to worry about in terms of their safety, hearing was close to the bottom of the list. They said they both suffer from partial hearing loss and a condition known as tinnitus, which is described as a high-pitched hissing sound. Junk said the second he stops hearing sounds, when it’s quiet, is when the ringing gets loudest.

“What is quiet? What’s peace? I know for me personally, I don’t have it. All I hear is ringing if there’s no noise around me,” he said. “If I do not have noise around me, it’s maddening. It is torture.”

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, tinnitus is the most common disability experienced by veterans with over 2.7 million receiving benefits for it.

Dr. Thomas Roland of NYU Langone Health explained that sound enters not only through the ear canal but also through something know as bone conduction.

“Our military personnel are exposed to extreme levels of noise,” Roland said. “When sound strikes the bone of our skull, the bone moves with the sound … Even if you completely block the ear, sound above a certain level can still get to the inner ear through bone conduction, still be very damaging.”

He said that any earplug – even perfectly designed ones – cannot prevent bone conduction of loud sound through the skull to the inner ear.

Andrew Duffy represents over two dozen veterans who used these earplugs.

“These earplugs have a dangerous design flaw,” Duffy said. “The goal is to send a message to 3M and other companies that … you cannot defraud the United States of America and have the consequences be the health and wellbeing of our military members.”

But no settlement is going to help bring their hearing back or get rid of the tinnitus.

“You can’t put a price on that. You can’t put a price on one of your senses, on your enjoyment of life, of maybe tranquil peace and quiet, or how I used to enjoy music. I can’t—I can’t enjoy music like I used to,” Junk said.

Hendersen is still angry.

“Still wanting, you know, wanting to, raise awareness to our fellow service members to get the – to get the word out. Go get tested. Go to the doctor. But then, you know, also wanting 3M toown up to it, to explain it more. We can maybe start with an apology,” he said.

Those earplugs have been discontinued and the Department of Justice declined to comment on which earplugs the military currently uses. 3M told CBS News it has “a long history of partnering with the U.S. military” and continues to make products to protect our troops. It denies the earplugs were defectively designed.

Source: CBSNews

100 veterans in Waco sue 3M, tens of thousands more expected

More than 100 veterans in Waco, Texas have filed lawsuits against 3M claiming that faulty ear plugs caused hearing loss and related medical issues — and the attorneys involved believe there could be tens of thousands more lawsuits.

3M settled a federal lawsuit in July for $9.1 million to resolve the allegations that it knowingly supplied the military with defective ear plugs — but the company did not admit liability in the settlement. Now, veterans like the 100 in Waco are seeking compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of wages and earning capacity.

“Unfortunately, too often our service members are taken advantage of by individuals and entities that care more about making money than making a safe and reliable product,” Waco attorney Robert Stem told Waco Tribune-Herald. “Our goal is to right this injustice so that it never happens again.”

Robert Stem and fellow Waco attorney Mo Aziz are representing 1,000 veterans, and they believe tens of thousands more will file similar lawsuits nationally.

“In fact, as of Fiscal Year 2017, there were over 1.6 million veterans service connected for tinnitus,” said James Henry, a research career scientist at VA Portland Healthcare System. “Around 80 percent aren’t particularly bothered by it, they might ignore it, whereas the other 20 percent are irritated to the point that they need clinical services.”

The Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation set a hearing for March 28 in Washington, D.C. to determine if the suits will be consolidated. Veterans who believe they are eligible for compensation can join the lawsuit here.

Source: Connecting Vets/Radio.com

Hundreds of vets are suing over these defective combat earplugs

Hundreds of veterans are filing lawsuits against a government contractor that manufactured and sold defective combat earplugs to the military.

The earplugs didn’t maintain a tight seal and allowed dangerously loud sounds to slip through without the wearer knowing.

The lawsuits allege that Minnesota-based 3M Company designed the earplugs in a defective manner and failed to warn users of the defect or to provide proper instructions for their use, according to a copy of one lawsuit provided to Military Times.

The failure allegedly resulted in hearing loss, tinnitus and loss of balance in those who used 3M’s trademarked, dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs during their military service between 2003 and 2015.

The lawsuits were filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas — Waco Division.

One hundred lawsuits were filed by two Houston-based law firms: Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz and Bell, Rose & Cobos.

“Due to the widespread damage caused to veterans by 3M’s actions, these cases are just the tip of the iceberg of lawsuits that will be filed in order to hold 3M accountable,” Mo Aziz, one of the attorneys involved, said in a statement.

3M previously agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold its earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency without disclosing defects that decreased the hearing protection, according to the Justice Department.

The allegations by the U.S. government were brought against 3M through the enforcement of the False Claims Act.

Although that case has been resolved, all claims within the settlement were allegations only, and there was no determination of liability, the Justice Department said.

That hasn’t stopped veterans from lining up to seek punitive damages from 3M after developing hearing issues from 3M’s “gross negligence,” according to the lawsuit copy.

“Since late 2003, 3M touted its Combat Arms earplugs as capable of allowing users to hear commands from friendly soldiers and approaching enemy combatants, unimpaired, in the same way as if they had nothing in their ears,” the lawsuit reads.

The documents allege that 3M employees knew about the earplug defects as early as 2000.

Although testing conducted by 3M found that the earplugs were defective, the company falsified certification stating that the testing complied with military standards, according to the lawsuit.

“It is an absolute disgrace that 3M would purposefully provide defective equipment to U.S. service members, knowing that those service members would rely on that defective equipment in combat,” Andrew Cobos, another attorney named in the lawsuit, said. “Their fraud resulted in lifelong injuries to America’s warriors. 3M’s actions cannot, and should not, be tolerated.”

In 2006, the U.S. government entered into a contract with 3M, in which the company supplied an estimated annual quantity of 15,000 earplug packages, with 50 pairs per package, at a guaranteed price of at least $9 million in sales for the year, the lawsuit states.

The earplugs were sold to the military until 2015, when 3M discontinued the product. However, the defective pairs were not recalled and thus are still likely used by soldiers and sold by other vendors, according to the lawsuit.

Source: MilitaryTimes

Veteran’s lawsuit says combat earplugs were defective

Sun-Times file photo

A former Army medic from Illinois is suing 3M over hearing loss allegedly caused by defective earplugs the company knowingly sold to the U.S. military during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Eric Taveras’ lawsuit is the first filed in Illinois, and follows a recent flood of similar lawsuits against 3M since the company settled a lawsuit about the dual-end Combat Arms earplugs.

In July 2018, 3M settled a lawsuit alleging it sold earplugs too short for proper insertion and agreed to pay more than $9 million, but without admitting guilt, the Department of Justice said at the time.

The earplugs were necessary to protect from injuries caused by explosions and firearms during training and combat, the lawsuit states.

“You feel betrayed when something that was supposed to help keep you safe doesn’t work properly,” Taveras, 41, of Elmhurst, said in a news release. “It feels even worse to realize that this was something the company knew about, but didn’t tell us.”

The lawsuit filed by Taveras alleges that 3M knew of the defects as early as 2000, three years before the company became the sole supplier of earplugs to the U.S. military at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The company supplied the earplugs to the military between 2003 and 2012.

Taveras, who served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, now suffers from permanent hearing loss and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, the lawsuit states.

The original maker of the earplugs, Aearo Technologies, was acquired in 2008 by 3M Company, which assumed responsibility for their products.

The suit alleges that 3M learned that inserting the earplugs deeper could help them work properly, but did not tell the military personnel of the technique.

Source: Chicago Suntime

Company knew earplugs it sold to military were defective, lawsuit in Missouri says

A U.S. Army veteran has filed a lawsuit in Kansas City alleging that his hearing was damaged because of defective earplugs manufactured by the 3M Company.

A number of similar lawsuits have been filed around the country, and last summer the U.S. Department of Justice and 3M reached a $9.1 million settlement over the same earplugs, which were sold to the U.S. military for more than a decade.

The new lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City by Kelby Rice, a Tennessee resident who served in the Army from 2003 to 2010.

The suit was filed in Missouri because Rice had used the earplugs while training at Fort Leonard Wood.

The lawsuit alleges that 3M sold the trademarked Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs to the U.S. military even after it was aware of problems with the product.

“Thus, defendant’s Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs have likely caused thousands, if not millions, of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss, tinnitus, and additional injuries related to hearing loss, including but not limited to pain and suffering and loss of the pleasures of life,” the lawsuit alleges.

Rice, who used the earplugs at Fort Leonard Wood and when deployed in Iraq, was diagnosed with tinnitus in January 2019. Rice had “no signs or symptoms” of hearing loss or tinnitus before joining the Army, according to the suit.

The lawsuit alleges many of the same issues with the earplugs that were the subject of the settlement with the Department of Justice.

The government had accused 3M of violating the federal false claims act.

The plugs were found to be too short for proper insertion into users’ ears, and the earplugs could loosen imperceptibly, making them ineffective for some people, the government alleged.

And despite knowing of the defect, 3M did not notify the military about it.

Rice’s lawsuit accuses the company of fraud, deceit and negligence.

It accuses 3M of “willfully and intentionally” concealing the “dangerous and serious safety concerns” of the earplugs.

The company actively suppressed the results of testing and other information about the defective nature of the earplugs.

The suit accuses the company of acting “willfully, wantonly, with an evil motive, and recklessly.”

It seeks an unspecified amount in damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses and loss of wages.

In a written statement Monday afternoon, a representative of 3M said the company was not commenting on specific litigation.

The statement did note the company’s support for the military and its members.

“3M has great respect for the men and women who protect us around the world,” the statement said. “We have a long history of serving the U.S. military, and we continue to sell products, including safety products, to help our troops and support their mission.”

Source: KansascityStar

Veterans file lawsuits against 3M for hearing loss

For eight years, Alex Ontkos served in the U.S. Army as an Army Ranger, but after his first deployment something went wrong.

“I started hearing a large ringing in my ear,” Ontkos said.

He says that came from using 3M’s Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEV2) during his service.

“We received them all the time,” Ontkos said. “We went to the range and they gave us disposable ones. They issued them to us during basic training. They were unreliable and fell out all the time.”

He’s not alone. Thousands–even millions–of veterans and current active duty military are estimated to be impacted by the earplugs.

Ontkos, who currently works for Burnham law in Colorado Springs says that he has spoken to dozens of victims already. Including some who now have hearing aids in both ears.

“The 3M earplug lawsuit is due to a defective design,” said Todd Burnham, the founding partner of the Burnham Law Firm. “This isn’t a case against the military. The military was duped by 3M.”

Burnham Law in Colorado Springs represents Ontkos and 30 other former or current service members impacted by the faulty earplugs.

Burnham said internal documents within 3M show the company knew about the defective earplugs but did nothing to correct it.

“We employ military veterans,” Burnham said. “At the end of the day, it’s not just a case for us. It matters, and we genuinely care.”

Last year, 3M settled with the U.S. government and agreed to pay them $9.1 million for the faulty earplugs. However, Burnham said none of that money will be given to those living with hearing damage. The firm is working with other law firms across the country to get justice.

“These individual claims, individual lawsuits that are brought by us and several other firms we’re partnering with to go against 3M,” Burnham said.

But to Ontkos, the damage has already been done.

“The fact that they are issuing faulty equipment to people serving the country, to people risking their lives, it’s ridiculous,” Ontkos said.

Source: Fox21

Veterans sue, saying 3M Combat earplugs caused hearing injuries

U.S. veterans have filed at least 11 lawsuits this month — including four in Minnesota — accusing 3M of knowingly selling thousands of defective earplugs to the military for use in combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan or training exercises in the United States.

3M, without admitting guilt, agreed six months ago to pay military branches $9.1 million to settle the government’s allegations that the Maplewood-based company supplied defective earplugs, the Department of Justice said at the time.

The soldiers who filed the lawsuits said they now suffer permanent hearing loss or tinnitus as a result of 3M’s defective products.

3M declined to discuss the cases, saying it doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

“I can tell you that there will be more filings,” said attorney Muhammad S. Aziz. “I think this will go into thousands and thousands of cases. There is a lot of interest in this case by veterans.”

Aziz filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Waco, Texas, last week on behalf of Scott Rowe, an Army combat veteran who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

Of the Minnesota lawsuits to date, three were filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. The fourth was filed in Hennepin County District Court. Cases also were filed in California, Oklahoma and Texas.

Army veteran Kevin Cronin lives in Washington state and told the Star Tribune that his attorney is filing his lawsuit any day now. He said he was required to wear 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs.

“I served active duty Army from 2012 to 2015 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. I went into the military with great hearing and left active duty with drastic hearing loss and tinnitus,” said Cronin, who now wears hearing aids.

Attorneys who filed suit on behalf of clients said they have been contacted by hundreds of veterans who have been diagnosed with hearing-related medical conditions. They all used Combat earplugs during either combat or military training exercises from 2003 to 2015.

3M acquired the products when it bought Aearo Technologies in 2008 for $1.2 billion. The lawsuits argue that 3M assumed all of Aearo’s liabilities as part of the acquisition deal.

Several plaintiffs have asked the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to grant a “multidistrict litigation” (MDL) pretrial review of the cases. If that request is granted, one case would be selected as the bellwether case that would be reviewed during one trial. The outcome of that trial would then establish basic protocols for how remaining lawsuits would be handled.

Other attorneys said they will pursue class-action status for the suits.

The lawsuits allege that the first defect was discovered in 2000 but that Aearo falsified test results so the products continued to be sold to the military for more than a decade.

The Combat earplugs were advertised as being dual-ended, meaning if you inserted one end in the ears you blocked out all noise. But if you inserted the other end, instead, you were protected from loud blasts but could still hear commands, conversations and certain noises.

The lawsuits allege that the earplugs not only had a flange that loosened but also were not long enough to fully protect the ear from loud noises such as explosions, shelling and other gunfire.

The lawsuits claim that many service members suffered permanent hearing loss, tinnitus and sometimes pain as a result and must now wear hearing aids and receive regular medical treatments by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs physicians.

Claims that the 3M/Aearo earplugs were defective first surfaced during a sealed 2016 federal whistleblower lawsuit filed against 3M by the competing earplug maker Moldex-Metric Inc. Those claims resulted in the $9.1 million settlement last summer.

The lawsuits now being filed represent individual claims that tie into the same allegations made in the Moldex-Metric case.

William Sieben — a Minneapolis attorney representing several former military members — said he expects the number of plaintiffs to swell into the thousands and for the cases to eventually be considered for class-action status by the courts.

One of Sieben’s clients, former Marine John Ciaccio of South Carolina, has already filed a request in federal court asking for his and seven other cases to be reviewed together under multidistrict litigation.

Sieben’s client Tim Cerula, a Marine and West Virginia native deployed to Iraq in 2005, said in his lawsuit filed in Hennepin County District Court that 3M and Aearo had the chance to fix their product but didn’t.

Sieben said his clients and many other vets are mad.

“These are sophisticated clients who know where they were trained, what they were exposed to and what hearing protection they were given by the military,” Sieben said. “And they know where their deployments were. They have a good knowledge about their exposure.”

While 3M would not discuss specific cases, 3M spokeswoman Fanna Haile-Selassie said 3M “has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world. We have a long history of serving the U.S. military, and we continue to sell products, including safety products, to help our troops and support their missions.”

3M discontinued making the dual-action Combat earplugs in 2015. As a result, no current products are involved in the lawsuit, Haile-Selassie said.

Details of each lawsuit differ slightly, but the key allegations are the same: that Aearo knew its Combat earplugs were defective. The suits further claim that Aearo deliberately falsified the company’s internal noise reduction rating (NRR) test results and continued selling the earplugs to the military anyway.

Source: Startribune

3M Company Agrees to Pay $9.1 Million to Resolve Allegations That it Supplied the United States With Defective Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs

The United States Department of Justice

The Department of Justice announced today that 3M Company (3M), headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, has agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) to the United States military without disclosing defects that hampered the effectiveness of the hearing protection device.

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the men and women serving in the United States military from defective products and fraudulent conduct,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Department’s Civil Division. “Government contractors who seek to profit at the expense of our military will face appropriate consequences.”

“Through rigorous enforcement of the False Claims Act, we protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse,” said U. S. Attorney Sherri Lydon for the District of South Carolina. “And in this case in particular, we are proud to defend the integrity of our military programs and ensure that our men and women in uniform are adequately protected as they serve our country.”

“Today’s settlement will ensure that those who do business with the government know that their actions will not go unnoticed,” said Frank Robey, director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit. “Properly made safety equipment, for use by our Soldiers, is vital to our military’s readiness. Our agents will respond robustly to protect the safety of our military.”

“This settlement demonstrates the commitment of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and our law enforcement partners to hold companies accountable for supplying substandard products, in particular products that could directly impact our service members’ health and welfare. DCIS protects the integrity of Defense Department programs by rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse that negatively affect the wellbeing of our troops,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Craig, Jr., DCIS Mid-Atlantic Field Office.

The settlement announced today resolves allegations that 3M violated the False Claims Act by selling or causing to be sold defective earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency. Specifically, the United States alleged that 3M, and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc., knew the CAEv2 was too short for proper insertion into users’ ears and that the earplugs could loosen imperceptibly and therefore did not perform well for certain individuals. The United States further alleged that 3M did not disclose this design defect to the military.

The allegations resolved by the settlement were brought in a lawsuit filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act. The act permits private parties to sue on behalf of the government when they believe that defendants submitted false claims for government funds and to share in any recovery. As part of today’s resolution, the whistleblower will receive $1,911,000.

The settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina, the Army Criminal Investigation Command, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.

The case is captioned United States ex rel. Moldex-Metric v. 3M Company, Case No. 3:16-cv-1533-MBS (D.S.C.). The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Source: Department of Justice – Office of Public Affairs

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