3M earplugs caused hearing loss. Company will settle lawsuit for $6 billion

3M earplugs caused hearing loss. Company will settle lawsuit for $6 billion

Right now, you’ve got nearly 300,000 current and former service members
waiting for some kind of accountability, they say, against the company 3M,
a company that may sound familiar because you’ve probably seen boxes of their earplugs at the store
or wherever you shop. They’re facing these claims that a version of their product issued by the U.S.
military to troops from more than 15 years was, quote, dangerously defective. Its latest battle
in court just a few days ago, where a jury in Florida ruled in favor of one vet over all this,
costing 3M $2.2 million. Courtney Kuby spoke with another vet suing 3M, who says he feels
betrayed. He feels betrayed by the mistakes that were made. Joseph Sigmund was in high school on
September 11th. I watched a plane fly into the tower and I realized all the people that were
dying. He joined the army in 2006 and deployed to Iraq, where he faced grueling combat. A few
years later, he deployed again, this time to Afghanistan as an artilleryman. On a typical day,
what kind of sounds would you be exposed to while you were serving in the military?
Incoming mortars, small arms fire, cannon fire. But even our generators were so loud
that you had to wear the earplugs or if we were standing beside it,
you would not hear me and I could not hear you. The U.S. military issued Joseph 3M’s version
two combat arms earplugs, or KV2, a dual-ended device designed to allow troops to hear directional
sounds while also providing hearing protection. Originally developed by Arrow Technologies,
U.S. troops used these earplugs from 1999 until 2015. 3M bought Arrow in 2008. Now,
veterans like Joseph have come forward alleging the earplug design was dangerously defective,
allowing potentially damaging sounds to penetrate. You would have those on and there was some loud
noise. What was it like? I guess you would say you can compare it to sometimes even a pinprick
on your eardrum or maybe something more blunt, a pencil lid. You could just feel it. After two
combat deployments, Joseph says he came back to the U.S., changed. It didn’t feel exactly right.
Joseph was diagnosed with tinnitus, a persistent ringing in his ears,
even though he maintains that he always wore his earplugs. I was religious with this. I mean,
I was religious with every piece of my equipment because I wanted to come home. I wanted to see my
family again. The types of noise that the military exposes their soldiers to are not your normal type
of noise. Dr. Fenya Mattson, who is not part of the 3M litigation, treats veterans suffering from
hearing ailments, which she says are often caused by repeated exposure to loud noises
and have varying symptoms that make them very difficult to diagnose. So many different aspects
to it. It’s hard to pinpoint when and how that happens. Joseph is one of about 290,000 former
and current service members suing 3M for hearing problems that they claim resulted from their KV-2
earplugs, making it one of the biggest multi-district litigations in U.S. history.
Since 2021, 12 service members have won cases against 3M stemming from this earplug litigation,
with juries awarding plaintiffs more than $220 million in damages. Juries have sided with 3M
in six cases. The amount of suffering caused by these earplugs is really off the charts.
The lawsuits began after a 2018 settlement between the Justice Department and 3M,
in which the government alleged the earplugs were defective and that 3M failed to disclose
a design flaw that made the earplugs too short to fit all users properly. In 2018,
3M paid $9.1 million to resolve the claims, but did not admit any wrongdoing. 3M maintains the
U.S. military dictated the design, so 3M is protected from liabilities by the government
contractor defense. It is 3M and Aeros contention at this point that they are entitled to the
government contractor defense because they were given specifications of a product, they gave that
product to the military, and they told the military if there was an issue, what is it and how do you
resolve it? According to 3M lawyer Eric Rucker, the military purchased approximately 4 million
KV-2 earplugs that are effective with proper training. It is 3M’s position now that this
product works. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to discuss the earplugs, citing ongoing litigation.
With one more trial scheduled to begin Monday in Florida and another 1,000 in the pipeline,
the plaintiff’s lawyers say they aim to hold 3M accountable. What exactly would justice look like
for those people who are suing 3M? I think the right thing at this point is for 3M to do the
right thing by combat veterans, to talk about a compensation program that’ll take care of them
and their needs. As for Joseph, who recently got a hearing aid, he says a sense of betrayal still
lingers. Our uniforms were fully functional, our gloves were fully functional, our eye probe was
fully functional. Somewhere along the way something happened, somebody dropped the ball on that.
Courtney Kuby is joining us now for more on her in-depth reporting here. Courtney, I’m so glad
you’re with us. When you look at the scale of this, right, the scope of this, it is big, and yet since
last year there’s only been a dozen cases that service members have won. When you have so many
people all kind of saying the same thing against the company, and you’ve laid out 3M’s defense here,
right, what is the timeline for some kind of a resolution? So that’s exactly why some of the
plaintiff attorneys are asking for 3M to set up some sort of a compensation program that we’ve
seen in other cases where there are thousands or tens of thousands. In this case, literally
hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs who are claiming that they may have been harmed by this
product. And so they’re calling on the company to set up some sort of a program where everyone
could come together, their cases could be individually tried and looked at, and then
potentially they could get some sort of compensation or payout much faster than what we’re
already seeing. But it’s important to point out, yes, there have been a dozen cases in this time
frame, but we’re already talking about tens of millions of dollars that have been paid out.
In the meantime, there are still a lot of veterans and active duty service members
who claim that they’re suffering because of this product.

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