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Company knew earplugs it sold to military were defective, lawsuit in Missouri says

Too loud for too long: How loud noises damage your hearing

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States. Noise exposure away from your job can damage your hearing just as much as working in a noisy place.
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Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States. Noise exposure away from your job can damage your hearing just as much as working in a noisy place.

A U.S. Army veteran has filed a lawsuit in Kansas City alleging that his hearing was damaged because of defective earplugs manufactured by the 3M Company.

A number of similar lawsuits have been filed around the country, and last summer the U.S. Department of Justice and 3M reached a $9.1 million settlement over the same earplugs, which were sold to the U.S. military for more than a decade.

The new lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City by Kelby Rice, a Tennessee resident who served in the Army from 2003 to 2010.

The suit was filed in Missouri because Rice had used the earplugs while training at Fort Leonard Wood.

The lawsuit alleges that 3M sold the trademarked Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs to the U.S. military even after it was aware of problems with the product.

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A U.S. Army veteran has filed a lawsuit against the makers of earplugs that are alleged to be defective. U.S. District Court

“Thus, defendant’s Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs have likely caused thousands, if not millions, of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss, tinnitus, and additional injuries related to hearing loss, including but not limited to pain and suffering and loss of the pleasures of life,” the lawsuit alleges.

Rice, who used the earplugs at Fort Leonard Wood and when deployed in Iraq, was diagnosed with tinnitus in January 2019. Rice had “no signs or symptoms” of hearing loss or tinnitus before joining the Army, according to the suit.

The lawsuit alleges many of the same issues with the earplugs that were the subject of the settlement with the Department of Justice.

The government had accused 3M of violating the federal false claims act.

The plugs were found to be too short for proper insertion into users’ ears, and the earplugs could loosen imperceptibly, making them ineffective for some people, the government alleged.

And despite knowing of the defect, 3M did not notify the military about it.

Rice’s lawsuit accuses the company of fraud, deceit and negligence.

It accuses 3M of “willfully and intentionally” concealing the “dangerous and serious safety concerns” of the earplugs.

The company actively suppressed the results of testing and other information about the defective nature of the earplugs.

The suit accuses the company of acting “willfully, wantonly, with an evil motive, and recklessly.”

It seeks an unspecified amount in damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses and loss of wages.

In a written statement Monday afternoon, a representative of 3M said the company was not commenting on specific litigation.

The statement did note the company’s support for the military and its members.

“3M has great respect for the men and women who protect us around the world,” the statement said. “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 mission.”

Tony Rizzo covers federal and state courts for The Kansas City Star, where he has been a reporter for more than 30 years. He is a Kansas City native and veteran of the U.S. Army.
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