According the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers must be aware of noise levels in the work environment. To ensure ear health and safety, noise levels should not exceed more than 115 decibels (dB) for any longer than 15 minutes. To give this some context, noisy restaurants typically clock in around 80 dB. Lawn mowers, motorcycles, or car engines are around 90 dB. Rock concerts are usually 120 dB, which is why many people experience temporary hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears) after a show.
From these examples, it is clear that consistently being exposed to any decibel level over 115 dB would be intolerable and unsafe. If a work environment routinely exceeds 115 dB for longer than 15 minutes, OSHA requires employers to provide adequate noise protection. This may be necessary during construction, working with or around air planes, or for some factory jobs. However, the most vulnerable population to hearing damage or loss is the service men and women in the United States military.
Military Service and Hearing Damage
Even when not in combat, military personnel work in very loud environments. According to a study from 2015, soldiers are exposed to decibel levels between 95 to 160 dB for multiple hours a day. Gun shots can range between an unbearable 140 to 160 dB, levels that well exceed the OSHA standards and are considered to be dangerous and painful. It is easy to understand why 50 percent of veterans experience hearing loss or tinnitus. Specifically, the Veterans Administration (VA) reports that 1,157,585 and 1,786,980 veterans are affected by hearing loss and tinnitus respectively. In 2017 alone, veterans filed 81,529 new claims of hearing loss and 159,800 new claims of tinnitus.
The Solution: Combat Arms Earplugs
Since noise levels are so extreme, the United States military is required to provide ear protection to all service men and women. In 2006, the military partnered with the company Aearo (which was later purchased by 3M) to supply soldiers with Combat Arms Earplugs, version 2 (CAEV2). These earplugs claimed to completely block out damaging noise while also ensuring soldiers could hear well enough to communicate with each other. To accomplish this, CAEV2 were designed with two different ends—one green, one yellow. Apparently, inserting the green end into the ear would block out all noise, fully protecting the ear. Inserting the yellow end would protect from particularly damaging sounds, while also enabling soldiers to hear each other speak. While this is an excellent solution in theory, as thousands of soldiers with hearing loss or damage can attest, it did not work as 3M expected.
What Went Wrong?
Unfortunately, the earplugs did not work. CAEV2 have design flaws that caused them to imperceptibly loosen in the ear canal over time. This means that their level of protection was inadequate at best, but more likely, completely useless. This left service men and women vulnerable to dangerous noise levels. Even worse, further allegations against 3M have suggested that they knew about the design flaws and did nothing. As a result, the Justice Department settled with 3M for $9.1 million in 2018, on the grounds that the company committed fraud by knowingly selling a defective product.
Hearing Loss Claims
Sadly, the $9.1 million settlement is not being used to provide financial compensation to the veterans who have lost or damaged their hearing as a result of 3M’s fraudulence. The settlement went directly to the federal government and to the whistle blower who revealed 3M’s actions. Since the settlement decision, thousands of veterans have sought the help of personal lawyers to sue 3M for financial compensation. Monetary damages can be given for:
- Medical expenses including specialist visits, diagnostic tests, prescriptions, and occupational or personal therapy
- Hearing aids
- Loss of income
- Physical, mental, or emotional pain and suffering
Who Can File Claims?
The CAEV2 products were distributed between 2003 and 2015. Service members deployed during this time frame are likely to have been affected by the faulty CAEV2. Veterans from all branches of the military, the reserves, Border Patrol, or any other service member who suffered hearing damage or loss after the CAEV2 were issued are eligible to pursue legal claims. Veterans who are receiving disability payment are also eligible.
How We Can Help
Our veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and safety. It is unjust that they are not receiving the financial compensation they deserve. If you or a loved one served from 2003—2015 and experienced hearing loss or damage after using 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, contact us today to discuss your legal options. At The Brothers Law Firm, we understand your pain and frustration during this time of need. We have represented numerous clients who have suffered hearing loss or damage after their service in the military. We can help you understand your legal rights and determine the best options possible to ensure you and your family get the help you need. To get started, fill out our online form to request a free consultation or call us at 281-491-3635.