3M's Defective Earplugs Changed The Lives of Central Texas Veterans
Central Texas veterans Sergeant Gilberto Figueroa and Staff Sergeant Charles Partain have joined thousands of veterans nationwide in suing Minnesota-based tech company 3M. Both Figueroa and Partain say that the company’s defective earplugs are responsible for hearing damage they endured while fighting abroad.
Between 2003 and 2012, 3M served as the exclusive earplug provider to the U.S. Military. The earplugs were designed to reduce the sounds of explosions while soldiers were in combat. However, because of a design defect, the earplugs did not properly seal in the ear leading to loud sounds slipping through. These earplugs were given to every deployed military member across branches. Between 2006 and 2012, hearing damage claims in the military increased tremendously.
The earplugs in question were yellow and black or green and yellow dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs, Version 2. The earplugs were designed too short for proper insertion into the ear. As a result, the earplugs subtly loosened and allowed dangerous sounds levels to enter the ear canal causing hearing damage.
A Whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2016 revealed that 3M was aware of the earplug’s defective design as early as 2000. In fact, the lawsuit alleges that rather than correcting the problem, the company falsified certification stating that its testing complied with military standards.
Sergeant Gilberto Figueroa
Army veteran, Sergeant Gilberto Figueroa joined the Army in 2002 and served through 2013. He separated from the Army in 2013 after receiving a medical discharge. However, during his time, Figueroa deployed as a motor transport operator to Iraq between 2008-2009 then again in 2011-2012.
Prior to his time in the Army, Figueroa’s hearing was fine. However, months after his medical discharge from the military, he was diagnosed with tinnitus at the VA Hospital in Temple, Texas. In his first deployment to Iraq, Figueroa said that he wore the 3M plugs during rocket attacks. However, dangerous levels of sounds slipped through and damaged his hearing.
As a result of 3M’s defective earplugs, Figueroa now experiences ringing in his ears all the time.
“I have tinnitus all the time, ringing in my ear,” Figueroa said. “Every night and every day, I deal with this.”
Staff Sergeant Charles Partain
Retired Staff Sergeant Charles Partain served in the military for 31 years. During his time, Partain deployed to Iraq twice and once to Afghanistan. Partain was diagnosed with both tinnitus and hearing loss after his second deployment to Iraq.
Partain’s tinnitus is so bad that he finds it difficult to sit through a meal at a restaurant.
“In my particular case, the VA is not treating me for tinnitus but they’re giving me hearing aids for the hearing loss,” Partain said.
His tinnitus prevents him from doing regular activities. For example, Partain said that he never knows what to expect because of his medical condition. Partain has difficulty doing simple things such as going outside because the wind can be too loud.
“As far as hearing loss, I can be sitting right next to my wife and I don’t hear her ask me a simple question,” Partain said.
Why are Figueroa and Partain suing 3M?
Both Figueroa and Partain aren’t suing 3M for the money—they believe they should receive some form of justice.
“Most of our 3M clients want to be fairly compensated,” Managing Partner and attorney for Figueroa and Partain, Craig Carlson said. “Injuries like this affect every aspect of a person’s life.”
These types of injuries can stop a person from sleeping at night, enjoying concerts or even going outside because the wind may be too loud. In many cases, it is difficult to hear loved ones speak because of the ringing in the ear.
How are Tinnitus and Hearing Loss Treated?
After receiving a tinnitus or hearing loss diagnosis, doctors may try different treatments to address tinnitus. In both cases, doctors will want to try to treat an underlying condition. In fact, hearing loss and tinnitus left untreated can make life much more difficult for veterans suffering from the conditions. Doctors may treat military hearing loss or tinnitus in the following ways.
In some cases, a doctor may recommend white noise devices to suppress the noise. Devices can include:
- White noise machines
- Hearing aids
- Masking devices
- Tinnitus retraining
In other cases, doctors may try to recommend medications to treat tinnitus. Drugs can’t cure tinnitus, however, the medications can help reduce the severity of symptoms and complications. Medications doctors prescribe include antidepressants and anxiety medication.
There are also home treatments that can be used. Patients diagnosed with tinnitus should avoid possible irritants, cover up the noise with a fan or soft music, manage stress and reduce alcohol consumption.
Hearing loss treatment
Hearing loss is typically treated with the help of listening devices, commonly called hearing aids. Listening, or hearing aids are small devices that fit in or on the ear. These devices help amplify sound.
Can I join the 3M Earplug Lawsuit?
To join the lawsuit, veterans who served between 2003 and 2015 are eligible to file a lawsuit against 3M. If you are eligible to receive compensation in the 3M lawsuit if you served in the following wars and were diagnosed with tinnitus and/or hearing loss:
- War of Afghanistan
- Iraq War
- War in North-West Pakistan
- War in Somalia
- American-led intervention in Libya
- Operation Ocean Shield in the Indian Ocean
- American- led interventions in Iraq (2014-2017)
- American-led intervention in Syria (2014-present)
When loud sounds are the cause of your hearing impairment, there is typically no treatment that can undo the damage. Therefore, service members with this type of damage generally don’t have much chance at a full recovery. We believe that you deserve justice for your injuries. We will fight for you to ensure that justice is served. If you or someone you know deployed to any of these conflict zones and is currently living with hearing loss or tinnitus, you may be entitled to file a lawsuit against 3M.
The hearing injuries Figueroa and Partain continue to live with were largely preventable. 3M knew that it was giving a defective product to U.S. military service members. The company chose to put profits over the hearing safety of our country’s bravest. While your hearing may never return, we can help you recover lost wages, medical expenses and other damages.
If you or an active or veteran service member you know if suffering the effects of hearing loss or tinnitus after using 3M dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs, The Carlson Law Firm from Kileen Texas is investigating and pursuing the defective 3M earplug claims. The firm is a veteran-owned and operated law firm and remains committed to ensuring our fellow veterans receive justice. There is often no treatment available to reverse the effects of hearing loss and tinnitus.