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The 3M Company, a multinational conglomerated based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and its subsidiary, Aearo Technologies, have faced thousands of lawsuits for their dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs. In the lawsuits, active-duty soldiers and veterans have accused 3M of knowingly committing fraud against the military, failing to warn soldiers of the earplugs’ defects, and falsifying earplug test results, among other allegations.
In 2016, Moldex-Metric Inc., a company that manufactures hearing protection products, filed a lawsuit against 3M, claiming the company committed fraud by knowingly selling defective earplugs to the U.S. military. The lawsuit stated that “protracted fraud perpetrated on the military by 3M, whose dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs…have likely caused thousands of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss and tinnitus.” 3M admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to pay a $9.1 million settlement in July 2018.
3M and Aearo claimed the dual-ended design would allow soldiers to insert the olive side to protect against all sound. From 2003 to 2015, thousands of soldiers in war zones, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, used the Combat Arms Earplugs. Some of the long-term damage reported includes tinnitus (ringing in the ears), permanent hearing loss and damage, and issues with balance.
Combat Arms Earplugs were intended to block loud noises and the sounds of explosions while allowing soldiers to communicate with each other. The earplugs were purportedly too short to be able to adequately fit the ear. Over time, the device could become too loose to protect against hearing damage. Many service members contend the manufacturer led the government and soldiers to believe their hearing was protected from most potential damage during training or service when it wasn’t.
Hearing loss is unfortunately common among those who have served in the military. An estimated 50% of veterans return with some level of hearing loss, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration. As of 2017, over 2.7 million veterans were receiving disability benefits for hearing loss.
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