What is Wrong with 3M’s Product?
The Combat ArmsTM Earplugs were designed with two purposes:
- To block out noise as typical earplugs do
- To block – or reduce – loud battlefield noises, such as gunshots and explosions
The earplugs were designed with the intent that wearers would still be able to hear officer’s commands when the earplugs were worn with the yellow end in their ears. However, the ends of these earplugs were too short, making them too loose to fit in many soldiers’ ears properly.
This is what’s known as a design defect, meaning that the intended design of the earplugs was inherently flawed with the final product carrying an unnecessary risk of harm. Other examples of product designs are commonly seen in poorly designed power tools, where safety or other features were not properly considered, making the item dangerous to use.
As such, those who were issued these earplugs could be suffering from hearing loss, the symptoms of which include:
- Muffled speech
- Withdrawing from conversations
- Difficulty hearing specific words over background noise
- Needing to increase the volume of your TV or radio
- Challenges hearing consonants
The defective earplugs can also cause tinnitus, which is a persistent noise or ringing in the ears. The condition can be related to greater hearing loss or a more serious ear injury, so if you experience a ringing, buzzing, or low hissing sound in your ears, reach out to a Texas product liability attorney at our firm to learn about what options you have moving forward.
Government Recovers $9.1 Million Settlement
After a whistleblower allegation that 3M knowingly sold these faulty earplugs to the U.S. Military despite knowing of their defects, the company paid $9.1 million to resolve the accusations against them. However, this settlement agreement only compensated the U.S. government for the money they spent on the Combat ArmsTM Earplugs.
While this is a telling result on behalf of 3M, this amounted to little more than a partial refund for what the military paid for a faulty product. It did not compensate the soldiers and other servicemembers who suffered as a result of prolonged use of the product.
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Can the Affected Soldiers Pursue Damages?
The original allegations against 3M for the faulty earplugs were filed under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act. This is a federal statute that punishes parties that defraud government programs and agencies – including military branches. Per the U.S. Department of Justice, the Act provides parties the opportunities to “sue on behalf of the government when they believe that defendants submitted false claims for government funds and to share in any recovery.”
This means that those who incurred hearing loss or other related issues can now file claims to seek compensation for their damages. The VA reports that more than 2.6 million veterans are receive disability compensation for hearing loss and tinnitus.
You may be eligible to recover compensation from 3M if you:
- Served in the military between 2003-2015
- Were issued earplugs during service
- Suffer from permanent hearing loss or tinnitus
Under the law, if you’ve suffered as a result of using 3M’s Combat ArmsTM Earplugs, you may be able to recover your:
- Medical Expenses
- Lost Wages
- Lost Earning Capacity
- Physical Pain
- Mental Anguish
- Physical Limitations
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Joining the 3M Earplug Lawsuit
In a typical product liability case, you must prove various elements to secure compensation, including:
- The product in question was defective;
- The product was unreasonably dangerous; and
- The product in question produced your injuries.
In the case of 3M’s Combat ArmsTM Earplugs, the matter may be best resolved through a mass tort. These are civil actions usually made up of individual lawsuits against the same defendant. The plaintiffs, who all have independent lawsuits, claim that the same party caused all of them harm through the same or similar circumstances. For example, the various servicemembers who suffered adverse effects may each file lawsuits against 3M claiming that the defective earplugs caused them significant harm.
The main benefit for participating in a mass tort is several individual plaintiffs pooling their resources. This allows individual lawsuits to consolidate their efforts between attorneys, streamline various processes, and ensure that the case moves as efficiently as possible.