One of America’s biggest brands is facing a lawsuit from roughly 300,000 servicemen and women. 3M produces approximately 60,000 products, everything from post-it notes to aerospace kits used by American pilots. One of its most common products used by American military members is earplugs and that has the company in hot water.
NBC News tells the story of one of the members the company allegedy failed, writing, “Joseph Sigmon was sitting in his high school French class in 2001 when he watched on TV as a hijacked plane slammed into New York’s World Trade Center. His immediate thought, Sigmon told NBC News, was to join the military. “I just knew I needed to do my part,” Sigmon recalled.
For Sigmon, that meant completing two tours of duty in the U.S. Army as a field artillery specialist in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was decorated for his work training Afghan soldiers how to operate artillery, and upon discharge, Sigmon held the rank of staff sergeant, a U.S. Army spokesman confirmed.
While Sigmon did his part, the company that supplied the Army with earplugs to protect his hearing did not, he says. That company is 3M, the St. Paul, Minnesota-based technology and manufacturing giant that supplied a version of Combat Arms earplugs to the U.S. military from 2008 to 2015. Sigmon, 37, has been diagnosed with tinnitus, a persistent ringing in his ears; he is one of about 290,000 U.S. military active-duty service members and veterans suing 3M over hearing problems they contend resulted from use of the company’s earplugs.
“When I got back, when it was quiet, I noticed a low tone ringing in my ears all the time,” said Sigmon, who lives in Newton, North Carolina, with his wife and two young girls. “At the end of the day, your ears are still ringing, and when you wake up in the middle of the night, you’re aggravated because you can’t get it to quit.”
Since 2018, 3M has been fighting against lawsuits brought by service members like Sigmon. The megacorp argues that their earplugs worked and American military members with hearing damage had nothing to do with their safety equipment.
So far, the result of the suits have been mixed: the company has successfully defended 6 of the 12 cases brought by military veterans.
Last August, Military Times reported, that 3M tried to spin off the responsibility to one of its subsidiaries in an effort to lessen their financial obligations, but its scheme was denied.
“The Aug 29. decision by an Indiana bankruptcy judge marks another step in a legal fight against 3M — the manufacturers of the combat earplug once mass-produced for the military — that began in 2019, when hundreds of veterans sued the company for issuing earplugs that failed to maintain a tight seal and allowed dangerously loud sounds to cause damage without the wearer’s awareness.
Documents from previous lawsuits against 3M, filed on behalf of service members and the Defense Department, show that the manufacturing company was aware that their earplugs were inadequate as early as 2000, but withheld this information for another 16 years.
Of the hundreds of thousands of pending lawsuits, one Florida-based case is slated to go to trial before a federal judge on Oct. 24. The case is on behalf of a U.S. Army Reserves veteran with four years of active-duty deployment time.
To date, 3M has paid out more $300 million in damages to service members and the DoD for injuries resulting from the defective combat earplugs.”
Earlier in the month, 3M released a statement saying that the Department of Defense backed their claims.
The report argued: “U.S. Department of Defense records for more than 175,000 plaintiffs show that the vast majority of claimants in Combat Arms earplug litigation have normal hearing under medically accepted standards. This information is included in Aearo’s estimation motion filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Indianapolis. Aearo and 3M remain focused on reaching an efficient, equitable, and expeditious resolution to this litigation.
Comprehensive analysis of U.S. Department of Defense audiometric data for plaintiffs who filed claims in the MDL showed that the vast majority of claimants did not have hearing loss according to standards from leading medical and health organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and World Health Organizations (WHO).
Under AMA standards, almost 90% of plaintiffs have no hearing impairment.
Under WHO and National Institute of Health standards, more than 85% of plaintiffs have normal hearing.
Nearly a quarter of the plaintiffs with impairment under either AMA or WHO standards reported their condition in hearing tests before they ever used the Combat Arms earplugs.
This analysis does not account for other causes of hearing loss that may have impacted the small percentage of servicemembers with hearing loss, including medical conditions unrelated to noise exposure, non-military noise exposure, hearing loss that predates a service member’s use of Combat Arms earplugs, and injuries suffered while not wearing Combat Arms earplugs. Every independent, third-party organization that has tested the product, including the Army Research Lab, the Air Force Research lab, NIOSH, and others, has found that it was safe and effective to use.”