Hundreds of veterans across the country are filing lawsuits, both state and federal, against 3M Company, a government contractor, alleging that the company provided the military with defective earplugs. The lawsuits allege that 3M issued the dual-ended Combat ArmsTM earplugs to U.S. soldiers for over a decade (2003-2015), which resulted in permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, and poor balance caused by defects in the earplugs. An exceptionally large number of lawsuits against 3M were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division. This is due to that division being in such close proximity to numerous military bases, including Fort Hood, Joint Base San Antonio Lackland, Fort Sam Houston, and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo.
In response, 3M issued the following statement: “3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world. We have a long history of serving the U.S. military, and we continue to sell products, including safety products, to help our troops and support their missions. We are not commenting on specific litigation matters at this time.”
This current wave of lawsuits against 3M follows the company’s settlement of a separate federal lawsuit. In July 2018, 3M agreed to pay the federal government $9.1 million to resolve allegations that the company had sold the earplugs in question to the U.S. military without disclosing defects that hampered their effectiveness. 3M did not admit liability in that case.
According to the Killeen Daily Herald, retired Staff Sgt. Charles Partain recently filed his lawsuit against the manufacturer. He was diagnosed with tinnitus and hearing loss after his second deployment. Partain’s lawsuit claims that 3M Company knowingly designed, made, and sold the defective earplugs and failed to warn of any defects. The lawsuit states that the stem of the earplug is too short, making it difficult for users to insert the earplugs deeply in the ear canal. The defect causes the earplug to loosen in the ear, allowing sounds to enter.
Depending on the severity, tinnitus and hearing loss are considered to be significant medical conditions that are usually incurable. Since his diagnosis, Partain said that he suffers from his medical conditions every day.
The Chicago Sun Times reported that Eric Taveras was the first to file a lawsuit in Illinois against 3M, but was followed by a flood of others. Taveras, a former Army medic, is suing the company over hearing loss allegedly caused by defective earplugs. His lawsuit alleges that 3M knew of the defects as early as 2000.
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict litigation will have a hearing on March 28, 2019 in Washington D.C. to consider whether the various federal suits should be consolidated for purposes of discovery and pretrial proceedings. In a memorandum of support filed in January, 3M said it supports moving pretrial proceedings to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, as that court is closest to the company’s headquarters. As a neutral alternative, 3M said it would also support the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee as a venue.