Hundreds of local veterans are filing lawsuits against the government contractor 3M Company, alleging that the company provided the military with defective earplugs, officials said.
Lawsuits on the issue have been filed all over the country, saying 3M issued the dual-ended Combat ArmsTM earplugs to U.S. soldiers for over a decade between 2003 and 2015, which resulted in permanent hearing loss, tinnitus and poor balance because the of the detective earplugs.
3M said it is not commenting about the lawsuits, but did issue the following statement to the Herald: “3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world. 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 missions. We are not commenting on specific litigation matters at this time.”
Killeen-resident and retired Staff Sgt. Charles Partain served 31 years in the military. He recently joined thousands of veterans nationwide suing the company and filing a local lawsuit with the Carlson Law Firm in Killeen. During his military career, Partain deployed two times to Iraq and one time to Afghanistan.
Like many other service members during 2003 and 2015, Partain was issued dual-ended Combat ArmsTM earplugs. He got diagnosed with tinnitus and hearing loss after his second deployment to Iraq, he said.
“My tinnitus is so bad, I can’t even go out to a restaurant … without having to step out half way through the meal,” he said. “In my particular case, the VA is not even treating me for tinnitus but they give me hearing aids for the hearing loss.”
According to Partain’s lawyer Craig Carlson, managing partner of the Carlson Law Firm, the lawsuit claims that 3M Company knowingly designed, made and sold the defective earplugs without warning the users about any defects.
Carlson said his firm has hundreds of clients just for this particular lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that the stem of the earplug is too short, making it difficult for people to insert the plugs deeply in the ear canal. The defect causes the earplug to loosen in the ear, allowing sounds to enter the ear canal.
Since his diagnosis, Partain said he is suffering from his medical condition every day.
“With tinnitus you never know how bad a situation is going to be when you walk into it,” he said. “You can’t really go outside sometimes because of the wind, you can’t go in any crowds, you can’t be around loud stuff. 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.”
While it can take years until the lawsuit comes to a settlement, Partain said he isn’t suing 3M for financial reasons but to obtain a sense of justice.
“There is not really a monetary figure you can put on this,” he said. “How do you put a monetary loss on that? How it affects your family, how it affects you and your functionality in life?”
Depending on the severity, hearing loss and tinnitus are considered significant medical conditions that are usually not able to be cured.
“Most of our clients just want to be compensated fairly,” Carlson said. “Injuries like this are almost beyond what it can really express because it affects every aspect of their life like talking to their family, trying to sleep at night. You can’t be with people because you can’t hear them but you can’t be away from people because when it’s completely silent it rings even louder.”
Carlson recommended affected veterans to join a lawsuit with a company they trust.
“Generally, companies don’t pay people that are not part of a lawsuit,” he said. “Unless you have a lawyer and are part of a lawsuit you are not going to be part of the settlement.”
According to Carlson, the 3M lawsuit counts as personal injury cases, which are handled in contingency. Filed claimers only pay their lawyers if they collect on the case.
To join the lawsuit, veterans who served between 2003 and 2015 need to show they were issued the dual-ended Combat ArmsTM earplugs as well as their military and medical records for proof.