Sergeant Scott Rowe is suing 3M Company, claiming their defective Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEV2) caused his hearing problems. Sgt. Rowe spent time deployed in Iraq as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 - 2004 and was issued CAEV2 earplugs during this period. Rowe claims to have noticed persistent ringing in his ears (tinnitus) upon returning from deployment. He says the sound is deafening, has compromised his sense of balance, and never leaves him in peace.
3M Knew Their Combat Earplugs Were Defective
The earplugs in question were originally designed by Aearo Technologies Inc., who won a contract to supply the Combat Arms earplugs to the United States Military. According to court documents, the CAEV2 earplugs were supplied to soldiers in multiple branches of the military from 2002 - 2013.
Promotional materials for the earplugs claim they provide enough protection "to cover most of the weapons in the military inventory, including shoulder-fired rockets." But Rowe's lawsuit claims Aearo knew the earplugs were too short to be correctly placed in the ear canal, making them prone to imperceptible loosening. This loosening allowed sound waves to travel around the earplugs, effectively bypassing their sound-dampening features and leaving the wearer's hearing relatively unprotected.
3M acquired Aearo in 2008, several years into the combat earplugs supply agreement with the US military. A whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2016 alleged that both Aearo and 3M had full knowledge of the earplugs' defects and chose not to disclose that information to the US military, constituting a violation of the False Claims Act. 3M settled the whistleblower lawsuit in late 2018 for $9.1 million, but military personnel injured by the defective earplugs will not receive any part of the settlement. The false claims lawsuit settlement does not legally amount to an admission of liability, but it may still represent an opening of the door to individual 3M military earplug lawsuits.
Hearing Problems After Using 3M CAEV2 Earplugs
Sgt. Rowe lives near Waco, TX now and says his life has not been the same since his ears were damaged while using the combat earplugs. In addition to tinnitus, he also struggles with frequent headaches and dizziness and now has to sleep with background noise. Rowe still has not received hearing aids as part of his military medical benefits, but they can only treat his hearing loss, not the constant ringing of tinnitus.
Even with hearing aids, Rowe will live with permanent hearing damage he attributes to 3M's faulty earplugs. According to his legal complaint, Aearo misrepresented the earplugs' noise reduction rating and failed to disclose details vital to their proper function. Rowe is seeking both punitive and compensatory damages for product liability, gross negligence, negligence, pain, suffering, and lost wages.
More 3M Earplug Lawsuits on the Way
According to Veterans Administration (VA) data, more than 100,000 new cases of hearing loss were reported in the US military in 2017. Between the high incidence of military hearing loss, the number of US military personnel who used these earplugs, and increasing public awareness of the associated litigation, 3M will likely face many more military earplug lawsuits moving forward.