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3M Combat Arms Earplugs

Truth: 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs are meant to protect military personnel from the loud noises that can permanently damage their hearing. These dangerous sounds can be both constant or sudden.

Truth: 3M and Aearo Technologies were aware that their Combat Arms earplugs were too short to adequately protect their wearers’ ears. The companies failed to disclose this information to the US government before finalizing a contract.

Truth: Many military personnel have experienced tinnitus or hearing loss as a result of exposure to dangerously loud noises as a result of earplug failure.

3M and Aearo Technologies’ Combat Arms Earplugs were designed for use by military personnel and were supposed to protect against the high levels of noise and extremely loud sounds, such as gunfire, that military personnel would be subjected to. Left unprotected, constant exposure to loud noises or even one loud sharp sound can permanently damage hearing. Hearing loss is the number one reason military veterans file for disability with the VA.

The dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs manufactured by 3M and Aearo between 2003 and 2015 were found by many to be too short to properly insert into the wearer’s ear canal. This meant that over time, the earplugs would loosen, gradually allowing in more and more dangerous noise without the wearer realizing.

Hundreds of veterans who served during this time are claiming that their hearing loss was caused by the defective Combat Arms Earplugs. If you or a family member have used 3M’s dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs between 2003 and 2015 and are experiencing hearing loss as a result, don’t hesitate to get the compensation you deserve. Contact us now for a free consultation and you won’t pay a dime unless your case is successful.

3M Combat Arms Earplugs

What Are Combat Arms Earplugs?

Combat Arms Earplugs are earplugs designed specifically for use by military personnel. They’re made with two modes: Open/Weapons Fire mode and Closed/Constant Protection mode. Open mode protects against the higher-pitched noises such as those made by firing weapons while allowing wearers to still hear lower levels of noise. Closed mode provides constant protection against constant low-level noise such as that from vehicles and airplanes.

The Combat Arms Earplugs are designed to protect wearers up to a decibel level of 190 dBp and have a NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) of 28 dB in Closed mode. The earplugs are meant to be sufficient to protect against the sounds made by most military weapons, including shoulder-fired rockets. Wearers can switch between modes using an in-ear mechanism as needed.

3M had a government contract with the US Military beginning in 2006 to sell 15,000 packages of 50 earplugs each for military personnel use, resulting in a guaranteed sale of $9 million annually for 3M.

Who Makes Combat Arms Earplugs?

The Combat Arms Earplugs are produced by 3M, an American company that specializes in producing products for industry, health care, worker safety, and consumer goods. 3M’s ear protection products are produced by their subsidiary, Aearo Technologies LLC, which 3M acquired in 2008. Aearo specializes in hearing protection and other safety equipment and were making the Combat Arms Earplugs prior to the acquisition.

What Are the Dangers of High Noise Levels?

Constant exposure to noise can cause damage to the delicate bones of the inner ear, resulting in noise-induced hearing loss. While people are constantly surrounded by noise, most of it is at safe levels. Earplugs are useful for protecting your ears when noise reaches an unsafe level.

What Kind of Noise Is a Risk?

Any noise above a certain decibel level can put people at risk of damaged hearing or hearing loss. The noise doesn’t have to be constant. Impulse noises (sudden, sharp sounds, like fireworks or gunshots) can cause permanent damage to people’s hearing as well. Noises 85 dB (decibels) or above are considered unsafe.

It isn’t just how loud the noise is that makes it dangerous. It’s also how close people are to the noise. Fireworks and gunfire can be safe from a certain distance but can be incredibly dangerous and pose a risk of permanent hearing loss up close. There are three factors that play a role in whether a sound can damage a person’s hearing:

  • Proximity to the sound
  • Volume of the sound
  • Duration of exposure to the sound

Noise Level Chart | Farah & Farah

What Are Signs that Noise Is too Loud?

There are some signs people can look for to determine if noise is too loud without requiring a sound level meter to measure the decibels. These signs include:

  • Raising voices to be heard
  • Difficulty hearing and understanding someone 3 feet away
  • Sounds are muffled even outside of the noisy area
  • Pain or ringing in the ears, lasting a few minutes to a few days afterwards

Who Is Most at Risk?

Millions of people regularly encounter unsafe levels of noise and as of 2018, 26 million people in the United States alone suffered from noise-induced hearing loss. Anyone can be affected by noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Many young people are affected by listening to music loudly on headphones or by attending frequent extremely loud rock concerts. Others have noisy workplaces that gradually damage their hearing.

Military Personnel

Military personnel, in particular, are at high risk for exposure to dangerous levels of noise. Depending on the military branch, they could experience steady exposure to the noise of vehicles and airplanes. In addition, if military personnel are in combat zones, they will hear many painfully loud impulse noises from firearms, many very close by. Even being around certain chemicals, such as jet fuel, can cause damage to hearing.

Hearing loss is, according to the VA (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), the top disability claim among military personnel.

What Are the Side-Effects of Exposure to Loud Noise?

Loud noises hurt your hearing because the sound waves are bigger than is safe for the small, delicate bones of the ear canal to handle. The louder the sound, the bigger the sound wave is and the larger the vibrations the sound causes in the eardrum.

Humans hear sound through a series of vibrations that make their way through the eardrum to the bones of the inner ear to the fine hairs of the cochlea, where the vibration is changed to electrical signals that are passed from the auditory nerve to the brain.

Louder sounds vibrate the fluid in the cochlea more than quieter sounds and can damage the sensitive hairs. Hearing loss occurs when the hairs of the cochlea are damaged and can’t send the electrical signals as well as they once could.

Ear Diagram | Farah & Farah

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is most commonly described as being a ringing in the ears, but that’s not the only form it can take. Tinnitus can also sound like a roaring, clicking, buzzing, or hissing noise. It can be high- or low-pitched, affect just one or both ears, and can be either loud or soft. 25 million adults in the United States alone experience tinnitus.

Some causes of tinnitus can be reasonably harmless, such as hormone changes (in women), a buildup of earwax, or an ear or sinus infection. But tinnitus is also a symptom of hearing loss.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noises. This can be long exposure to high-decibel sounds (such as over-use of headphones at a high volume or a noisy workplace) or short exposure to impulse noises (such as gunfire). NIHL can affect people of all ages and its onset can be either immediate or gradual over the course of many years.

What Are the Symptoms of Hearing Loss?

The signs of hearing loss are the same no matter what the cause of the damage is. Some of the symptoms of hearing loss are physical, while others are more behavioral in nature and are a way to recognize hearing loss in others. These signs can include:

  • Speech and other sounds are muffled
  • Difficulty hearing consonants
  • Trouble understanding words when there’s background noise
  • Requiring louder volume on the TV or radio
  • Withdrawing from conversations
  • Asking others to speak louder or slower
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Tinnitus

Defective Earplugs

Due to the loud sounds that military personnel can be exposed to during the normal course of their occupation, ear protection is essential equipment. If that equipment fails, they are at risk for tinnitus, permanent hearing loss, and loss of balance. Experiencing any of these symptoms can put veterans on disability and affect their quality of life.

The 3M dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs were found to be too short to properly seal in the ear canal. This defect would gradually cause the earplugs to loosen and allow in dangerously loud sounds without their wearer’s knowledge, causing potential hearing damage. Hearing loss caused by exposure to dangerous noise levels is an avoidable lifelong injury and is the number one cause of veterans filing for disability with the VA.

Litigation Against 3M

United States Government Lawsuit

The United States government sued 3M in 2018, alleging that 3M and Aearo Technologies had known that the Combat Arms Earplugs were too short and that they would imperceptibly loosen, increasing the risk of exposure to dangerously loud sounds for certain military personnel. The suit claimed that 3M had known about the design defect and had failed to disclose them to the military prior to and after signing the contract.

The suit was brought about on behalf of the U.S. government by an unnamed whistleblower under the False Claims Act, purporting that 3M had submitted false claims to the government in order to receive government funds. 3M agreed to pay $9 million in July 2018 and the whistleblower received $1.9 million. This recovery resulted in allegations only, however, with no determination of liability on the part of 3M or Aearo Technologies.

Veterans’ Lawsuits

After the $9 million recovery, hundreds of veterans began coming forward to sue 3M. These lawsuits allege that 3M not only failed to disclose the design defect but also failed to provide instructions for the proper use of the earplugs. These veterans experienced hearing loss, tinnitus, and loss of balance and claim that 3M’s defective dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs were the cause.

The veterans’ lawsuits also claim that 3M knew of the defects as early as 2000 and continued to sell the earplugs to the US Military knowing of the risk they posed to soldiers. They claim that 3M’s testing procedures had uncovered the defect but that the company had then falsified its certifications in order to claim that the earplugs met military standards.

When Should I Consider a Combat Arms Earplugs Lawsuit?

To determine whether or not you have a case, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Between 2003 and 2015, did you use 3M’s dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs during your military service?
  • Are you now experiencing hearing loss, tinnitus, or loss of balance?
  • Has your life been negatively affected as a result?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may have a case against 3M. Contact Farah & Farah to schedule a consultation with a highly experienced attorney. The consultation is free and you pay nothing unless your case is successful. Don’t wait to get the justice you deserve.

Co-counsel will be associated on these cases.