If you were in the military anytime between 2003 and 2015 and have been diagnosed with service-related tinnitus or hearing loss, your military-issued 3M ear plugs could be to blame. Manufacturer 3M allegedly sold defective Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs (Version 2) to the U.S. military. The claim is that the earplugs are made of a material that does not provide the promised reduction in noise levels and that they are too short for effective noise blocking.
Lawsuits began in 2018, with the company arguing that when properly used, the earplugs are effective. They contend that the earplugs are not to blame for hearing damage. The win-loss record is split, with service members and veterans winning 12 cases and losing six. However, it is still very early in the process, with nearly 300,000 lawsuits having been filed.
Here we will cover what veterans need to know about the impact of these faulty earplugs, and what you should know about pursuing legal action.
Symptoms of Earplug Hearing Damage
Veterans who used these 3M earplugs are reporting two different types of hearing damage: tinnitus and hearing loss. While everyone is different, you should have your hearing checked if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms.
- Trouble understanding speech
- Muffling of sound overall
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves
- Turning up the TV or radio volume
- Difficulty hearing noises such as doorbells or alarm clocks
- Speaking more loudly than you used to
Tinnitus is persistently hearing sounds that aren’t really there. These sounds could be loud or subtle and may take many forms including:
Which Earplugs Are Affected
The 3M earplug lawsuit focuses on one specific model: the Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplug Version 2. These earplugs are yellow at one end and black at the other and made in a sort of diamond shape. They were issued both for training and in active combat zones between 2003 and 2015. If you served in any branch of the military during that time and were exposed to loud noises that resulted in hearing loss or tinnitus, you may be eligible to file a veteran hearing loss lawsuit.
Frequently Asked Questions About 3M Lawsuits
Some service members have concerns about pursuing legal action, so here are answers some common questions that can help to alleviate your worry.
Would I Have to Sue the U.S. Government?
These lawsuits are against the manufacturer of the earplugs, 3M. The U.S. government is not a named defendant. The allegation is that 3M discovered in their own testing that the earplugs had serious issues, but they sold them to the military anyway.
Does Filing A 3M Lawsuit Affect My Military Benefits?
Your military benefits will not be affected if you decide to file a claim. If you are awarded damages, you will continue to receive any benefits that are not based on income level or financial need, including disability benefits. However, the additional income could affect any need-based benefits you currently receive. Your attorney can review all your current sources of military income and help you understand what is likely to happen.
Would I Be Joining a Class Action Suit?
The 3M earplug cases have been consolidated into a mass tort multi-district litigation (MDL), which is not the same as a class action suit. In a class-action suit, just a few plaintiffs represent the entire group. In a mass tort MDL, individual lawsuits are joined together. There is one group of attorneys known as the PSC, or plaintiffs’ steering committee, and one federal judge overseeing all the cases.
MDLs are often settled for the whole group, just like class-action suits. But in an MDL, you can hear the full terms of the settlement agreement and decide whether or not to accept it. If not, you can still proceed on your own, using all the evidence that was collected by the MDL.
Understanding Product Liability
The 3M earplug lawsuit falls into the general category of product liability. In essence, product liability simply means that a defective product caused an injury. You are more likely to win your case if you can show that there was a failure to warn—that is, that the manufacturer knew or should have known that the defect existed, but did not adequately warn users about it.
There are three basic types of product liability:
As the name implies, this is a design flaw that makes the product inherently unsafe. In this case, it is manufactured correctly, according to design specifications. But those design specifications themselves make the product unsafe to use in its intended manner.
In some cases, the design is perfectly safe. But something occurs during the manufacturing process that makes the finished product unsafe. Maybe a machine is set incorrectly, or a bit of foreign material gets into the product during manufacturing.
Marketing defects most often occur when there is some inherent danger to a particular product, and the manufacturer fails to provide adequate warnings of specific hazards. Failure to warn can also fall into this category. If the manufacturer knew that there was a design flaw or manufacturing issue, but sold the product as perfectly safe, it could also be considered a marketing defect. In the veteran hearing hoss lawsuit, it is alleged that 3M knew the flaws could lead to tinnitus and hearing loss but failed to warn the military.
Proving Your Injury
In a product liability case, you must prove three things beyond the defectiveness of the product:
- You were injured while using the defective product
- You were using the product as intended
- The defective product caused your injury
In the case of 3M earplugs, the defective product is one specific type of earplug: the Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplug Version 2. Diamond-shaped and colored black at one end and yellow at the other, these earplugs were issued to all branches of the military from 2003 to 2015. They were used in both active combat zones and training exercises. If you served during that time, were exposed to loud noises while wearing earplugs, and were then diagnosed with tinnitus or hearing loss, you may have a case. As an earplug is a very simple piece of equipment, proving that you used the product as intended is not generally difficult in a 3M lawsuit.
Still, you will need documentation to prove your case. The federal judge overseeing the 3M cases dismissed more than 20,000 claims in May 2022 because the plaintiffs did not produce the required documents. Before filing a claim, gather copies of your DD-214, military records, and VA records. Be sure to include a copy of your hearing loss or tinnitus diagnosis.
Possible Compensation for Service Members
As the 3M lawsuits have been consolidated, if the MDL is settled and you choose to accept, you will receive the negotiated compensation. If you proceed on your own, product liability cases offer several different potential types of compensation. The individual details of your case will determine which types you might receive, as well as the specific dollar amounts.
As a defective product lawsuit, your case may be eligible for various types of compensation. If the case is settled and you choose to participate in the settlement, you will receive a predetermined amount of money.
Otherwise, exactly what types of compensation you receive, along with the specific dollar amounts, will depend on your circumstances. Possible types of compensation in these cases include:
- Medical bills, including those already incurred and those you are likely to face in the future
- Lost income if your hearing loss or tinnitus affects your ability to work
- Loss of future earnings if your inability to work is expected to last long-term
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Punitive damages, which are designed to punish the manufacturer for its decisions
It can be tough to figure out exactly what amount of compensation is fair. That’s why you need an attorney who is experienced in this type of lawsuit and is prepared to fight for every dollar you deserve.
Get a Free Case Evaluation
The first step is to submit your claim, along with documentation of your military service and your hearing loss or tinnitus, for a free case evaluation. At Cooney & Conway, we have the experience and compassion to guide you through the process of receiving compensation for your service-related hearing damage. To get started, fill out our free case evaluation today.