Combat veteran sues 3M over defective hearing plugs

01/23/19 4:30 AM | by

Sergeant Scott D. Rowe served in Operation Iraqi Freedom between 2003 and 2004, using 3M’s dual ended Combat Arms Earplugs — a product the company knew was faulty, but sold anyway to procure a lucrative government contract, according to the complaint. (Photo: Courtesy of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz lawfirm)

Sergeant Scott D. Rowe served in Operation Iraqi Freedom between 2003 and 2004, using 3M’s dual ended Combat Arms Earplugs — a product the company knew was faulty, but sold anyway to procure a lucrative government contract, according to the complaint. (Photo: Courtesy of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz lawfirm)

A combat veteran took legal action against 3M this week after he sustained permanent hearing loss and tinnitus while using the company’s defective earplugs overseas.

Sergeant Scott D. Rowe served in Operation Iraqi Freedom between 2003 and 2004, using 3M’s dual ended Combat Arms Earplugs — a product the company knew was faulty, but sold anyway to procure a lucrative government contract, according to the complaint.

“It is reprehensible for a U.S. corporation, in this case 3M, to knowingly supply defective products to the U.S. military,” said Andrew Cobos, one Rowe’s attorneys, in a news release Tuesday. “These service members are overseas, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting their lives on the line. The last thing they should have to worry about is the adequacy of their equipment.”

Rowe sued the company Tuesday in the Western District of Texas, seeking a jury trial, compensatory damages, costs and attorneys fees, according to court documents.

Cobos accused 3M of putting profits above service members’ lives. “A mistake of the mind is forgetting a radio frequency or plotting a wrong grid. But a mistake  of the heart — lying, cheating, stealing — those are much worse, and such conduct cannot be tolerated,” he said. “3M’s conduct … was a mistake of the heart of the worst variety. Such conduct will not be tolerated, and, mark my words, we will hold them accountable.”

The action comes three years after a whistleblower, a California-based manufacturer of safety products called Moldex, sued 3M for violating the False Claims Act, alleging the company– and its predecessor Aearo Technologies — knew its earplugs became imperceptibly loose in the ear canal as early as 2000. The undisclosed defect remained a secret for years, according to court documents, as thousands of soldiers — reportedly more than half — sustained “significant hearing loss and tinnitus” while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2015. Meanwhile, 3M profited more than $9 million.

“In addition to funding the military’s repeated purchases of the defective earplugs from 3M for more than a decade, taxpayers must also shoulder the massive expense of treating veterans with hearing damage and impairment, which represents the largest ongoing medical cost to the military,” attorneys for Moldex said in a 25-page complaint filed in South Carolina federal court.

3M discontinued the earplugs in 2015, but never issued a recall. The Department of Veterans Affairs spends more than $1 billion annually treating hearing loss for over 800,000 veterans, according to most recent estimates cited in court documents.

The Department of Justice awarded Moldex $1.9 million in a settlement in July. 3M spent an additional $7.2 million resolving other claims brought against the company over the earplugs.

Latest Reviews

  • .308 Win

    Top Four Premium Hunting Ammo Choices for the .308 Win

    We’ve selected four of our favorite .308 hunting options that work well in most firearm platforms, tackling everything from predators...

    Read Now
  • Hellcat

    First 100 Rounds: A Look at the Springfield Armory Hellcat

    Springfield Armory hooked me up with a Hellcat to take for a test drive. Though my full thoughts and opinions...

    Read Now
  • Sixty Years On, Mossberg 500 Series Shotguns Going Strong

    Sixty years on, Mossberg 500 series of shotguns are going strong. They're well built, reliable and an excellent bang for...

    Read Now
  • The Ruger Mark Series is Ready for Competition or Hunting

    One of the world’s most popular .22 LR pistols, the Ruger Mark II brings a versatile pistol design to the...

    Read Now