The United States Department of Justice revealed in July 2018 that the company that manufactured earplugs for the military had agreed to settle a lawsuit over the earplugs being defective. The manufacturer, 3M, settled for $9.1 million. The earplugs in question are called the Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs. The devices have been shown not to protect from hearing loss as they were intended.
The devices were provided to service members from 2003 through 2015. The manufacturer was Aearo until that company was purchased by 3M in 2008. The lawsuit against 3M states that the original manufacturer, Aearo, knew that the earplugs were defective by 2000, which was years prior to the military choosing to contract with 3M for the military’s earplugs. 3M eventually became the sole provider of earplugs for service members.
The earplugs were found to be defective because of their shape. The company allegedly knew that the design was too short to be properly used in many soldiers’ ears. The device would, therefore, become loose causing it to fail to perform as intended. The person wearing the earplug may not even be aware of the loosening of the device making it impossible for them to know that they were putting themselves at risk of hearing loss. According to the lawsuit, 3M may have even manipulated the results of tests to be able to claim the earplugs met the requisite standards set by the military.
Soldiers who used the earplugs could have sustained permanent damage to their ears including hearing loss and tinnitus. Tinnitus involves constant ringing in a person’s ears. The problem is prevalent among veterans, 1.6 million of whom sought medical care for the potentially debilitating condition in 2017 alone.
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