• Lawsuit alleges defective earplugs led to hearing loss for hundreds of veterans

    By: Vanessa Welch

    Updated:

    Hundreds of veterans are claiming government-issued earplugs failed and now they have life-long hearing loss. It's part of a lawsuit that alleges the manufacturer knew the earplugs were defective and sold them to the Department of Defense anyway.

    Joey Mujica, an army veteran from Pennsylvania, claims he has constant ringing in his ears.  

    "My son was diagnosed with epilepsy," Mujica said. "His first seizure, I didn't hear him scream."

    He started hearing the high-pitched ringing noise back when he was in the army and became concerned. He took those concerns to the medics, but was told the issue was normal and would go away. He blames military-issued earplugs for the damage.

    "You have faith in your equipment, and when it fails you and you're still told you have to use it, what are you supposed to do?" asked Mujica.

    He's among 600 military servicemembers from around the country who have filed lawsuits against the manufacturer, 3M, claiming they knew the earplugs were defective.

    The dual-sided Combat Arms Earplugs were used by various branches of the armed services between 2003 and 2015. 

    Related: New bill would protect veterans from losing federal benefits for marijuana use

    Army veteran Joseph Junk described one of the major shortcomings of the earplugs.

    "One of the major issues is the seal would break without us even knowing," Junk said.

    The lawsuits claim 3M was aware of problems with the earplugs early on. 

    "You had a company selling it, knowing that it wasn't going to protect their hearing," says David McCormack, from the law firm Sugarman and Sugarman.

    McCormack represents about 10 people from Massachusetts in the multi-district lawsuit filed in Florida last month.

    "They all describe the same thing of this constant ringing that never goes away. Difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating" McCormack said.

    Audiologist Dr. Goutham Gosu says tiny hair cells in the inner ear that are crucial for hearing can be injured by unexpected loud noises.

    "If it is a sudden impactful loud sound, there is going to be a lot of energy that goes into that inner ear and it can damage those hair cells because they're not prepared for that loud sound," said Gosu.

    Just last year, 3M paid the U.S. government $9.1 million to settle a lawsuit alleging the company knowingly sold the military defective earplugs. The company did not admit wrongdoing in that settlement.

    3M issued a statement to Boston 25 News:

    3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world and their safety is a priority. We have a long history of partnering with the U.S. military, and we continue to make products to help protect our troops and support their missions. The company worked in close coordination with the U.S. military on the Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 product and its design reflected the direction and feedback of individuals acting on the military’s behalf. We deny this product was defectively designed and will vigorously defend against the allegations in these lawsuits through the legal process.

    McCormack believes that thousands of veterans will be eligible to join the lawsuit.

    Next Up: