Hearing Damage Related to Ear Plug Usage

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The Minneapolis located 3M company produced the Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs that were employed by military staff from 2003 to 2015 during combat and training exercises to defend soldier hearing from gunfire and explosions. Hearing problems are the most frequent issues suffered by soldiers so hearing defense is a major worry for American soldiers. Based on various scenarios, the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs were created to offer two different amounts of protection. The dual-ended earplugs have a design that is easily noticeable. As their name implies, they consisted of two outward facing plugs, one green and one yellow.

While the yellow end was put into the ear, this is called as Open Fire mode. This level was designed to offer normal hearing for peak situational alertness. It would let soldiers to communicate, receive commands and listen to other important sounds on the battlefield while continuing to provide defense from peak level sounds like gunfire and explosions. This could have been the desired mode in combat situations.

When the green part was placed into the ear, this was known as Constant Protection mode. Constant Protection was designed to block all sounds more completely in order to provide full defense. Per 3M, this mode is for high level steady noise scenarios such as those in tracked vehicles and air support. This mode could have additionally been used in several standard practice exercises and environments as well.
Alleged Hearing Risks
Combat Arms EarplugsManufactured by 3M and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc, Dual Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) that were created for military usage and used broadly by thousands of personnel sent to Afghanistan and Iraq between 2003 to 2015. The CAEV2 was designed to let two separate protection modes, Open Fire mode and Constant Protection mode. The applicable setting is determined by which side of the plug is inserted into the ear, yellow for Weapons Fire mode, green means Constant Protection mode. earplug lawsuit is designed to allow for hearing speaking and communicating yet still protecting against damaging noise levels from gunfire and explosions. The Constant Protection level blocked all noise more fully that was useful for personnel operating in track vehicles, in air support or during regular training. Both settings were claimed to stop sounds up to a specific level yet in current legal action, the government has alleged that neither mode of the ear plug complied with the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) which 3M claimed due to a non-reported design error.

$9.1 million Settlement Between 3M and the U.S. Government
During July of 2018, the United States DOJ announced that 3M had agreed to pay $9.1 million in order to resolve allegations that the company knowingly sold the Combat Arms Earplugs v2 to the American military without disclosing defects that hampered the effectiveness of the hearing protection device. The lawsuit was originally placed in 2016 under the whistleblower part of the False Claims Act which permits private citizens to sue on behalf of the federal government whenever they believe that a defendant has made false claims for government funds. In this case, the whistleblower was granted $1,911,000 for their part in the lawsuit.

Per the DOJ press announcement, the settlement took care of allegations that 3M violated the False Claims Act by marketing 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 correct insertion into users’ ears and that the plugs might loosen slightly and then did not perform well for certain individuals. It was also alleged that this design error was known to 3M but wasn’t disclosed to the Department of Defense.

Injuries to Personnel
If the allegations about 3M are true, thousands of personnel might have used fault prone earplugs that didn’t protect them as the product was supposed to. Based on the claimed design error, the earplugs may come loose while inside the ear unbeknownst to the soldier allowing damaging noise to find their way inside the ear. Dangerous noise levels may have serious and lasting effects which include partial or total hearing loss, or tinnitus, a ringing inside the ears. Hearing damage is one of the most common issues suffered by active duty and former service personnel. Tinnitus, which may be debilitating, is just as prevalent. According to a research scientist with the VA Portland Healthcare System, last year there were over 1.6 million service personnel looking for medical care for chronic tinnitus.

You Might be Eligible to Compensation
If you or a family member were given Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs during service in the military from 2003 and 2015, and have since suffered partial or total hearing loss or suffer from tinnitus, your situation should be discussed with the Meneo Law Group to explore all options available to you.