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Lawsuit: 3M's Defective Ear Plugs Caused Hearing Loss in Military Service Members

3M corporate headquarters in Minnesota.

3M corporate headquarters in Minnesota. Photo: Ken Wolter/Shutterstock.com

Eight months after the 3M company agreed to pay the U.S. government $9.1 million to resolve allegations it knowingly sold the U.S. military defective earplugs, the first Connecticut lawsuit alleging the earplugs were unusable has been filed in federal court.

The latest product liability lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in the District of Connecticut on behalf of former Green Beret Jonathan Frew, maintains the 32-year-old West Hartford resident's poor hearing is due solely to the alleged defective ear pieces.

Frew, who served in the Marine Corps from 2004 to 2007 and then as a Green Beret from 2007 to 2013, was diagnosed with hearing loss while on active duty, according to his attorney, Robert Reardon Jr., a partner with New London-based The Reardon Law Firm.

Frew served in Africa and Afghanistan. He has severe hearing loss in his left ear, less severe loss in his right ear, and uses hearing aids in both, Reardon said Wednesday. His hearing will not improve, and could worsen, his attorney said.

"This product was defective and dangerous," Reardon told the Connecticut Law Tribune. "It did not live up to any of the representations made by 3M concerning the protection it was going to afford service members."

The alleged defect arises from the stem of the ear plug being too short for proper insertion, leaving the eardrum vulnerable to injury.

"Weapons training means having weapons placed close to your ear when firing them," said Reardon, who was a captain in the Marine Corps in the early 1970s. "It's so important that the protection you've been given is sufficient to ensure you do not suffer hearing damage."

Hundreds of thousands of service members were given the 3M-made hearing devices, which were sold as dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2, from 2003 to 2015, according to the plaintiff's side. Service members used the earplugs in the United States and overseas, Reardon said.

More than 300 lawsuits, including about 160 from Minnesota, have been filed in less than a year against the Minnesota-based company. Because of the number of pending lawsuits, the cases are likely to transfer to one federal judge in multidistrict litigation.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 3M had not appointed attorneys to the case.

Company spokeswoman Fanna Haile-Selassie denied the allegations.

"3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world and their safety is our priority," she wrote in a statement. "We have a long history of partnering with the U.S. military, and we continue to make products to help protect our troops and support their missions. We deny this product was defectively designed and will defend against the allegations in these lawsuits through the legal process."

Even though the company reached the multimillion-dollar settlement last year with the U.S. government to resolve allegations around its ear plugs, the agreement states that 3M admitted no liability.

The suit seeks an undetermined amount of compensatory and punitive damages, as well as pre- and-post-judgment interest and attorney fees.