More than 100 military veterans have filed federal lawsuits in Waco against the Minnesota-based 3M Co., alleging the corporate giant provided earplugs to the military that it knew were defective.
The most recent suit was filed last week on behalf of Joshua K. Smith, an Army sergeant from Marlin who served from 2007 to 2015, including duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is seeking damages for significant hearing loss and other medical issues related to his military service while wearing what he alleges were defective Combat Arms earplugs provided by 3M.
Smith is represented by Houston attorney Mo Aziz and Waco attorney Robert Stem. Smith is among 101 of Aziz’s clients who have filed similar lawsuits recently against 3M in Waco’s U.S. District Court. Aziz said he represents almost 1,000 veterans whose suits could be filed soon.
“Unfortunately, too often our service members are taken advantage of by individuals and entities that care more about making money than making a safe and reliable product,” Stem said Monday. “Our goal is to right this injustice so that it never happens again.”
Aziz expects tens of thousands of veterans to file similar lawsuits around the country. He said the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation has set a March 28 hearing in Washington, D.C., to determine if the suits will be consolidated in one federal district for pretrial proceedings and discovery matters. Groups have asked that the lawsuits be consolidated and moved to Minnesota, California, Louisiana and other locations, Aziz said.
Officials from 3M did not respond to a phone message Monday from the Tribune-Herald but issued a statement about the earplug lawsuits on its website.
“3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world,” the company said in the statement. “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.”
Smith alleges in his suit that he suffers from injuries and damages related to inadequate hearing protection, including tinnitus, hearing loss, loss of balance and other damages.
The suits on behalf of service members come after 3M settled a federal lawsuit in July for $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly supplied the U.S. military with defective earplugs. The suit was brought under the False Claims Act after a whistleblower complaint.
The company did not admit liability in the settlement, but Justice Department officials alleged the Combat Arms earplugs were too short for proper insertion in users’ ears and that 3M didn’t disclose the defect to the military.
Smith’s lawsuit refers to the settlement and says the earplugs initially were created by Aearo Technologies, which 3M bought in 2008.
The companies held an exclusive contract to supply earplugs to active combat personnel between 2003 and 2012 and the lawsuit alleges the companies knew of the defects as early as 2000.
Smith’s suit, like the Justice Department suit, alleges the defect caused the earplugs to come loose in a wearer’s ear, allowing damaging noise through.
“Further, the dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs, manufactured by defendant 3M Company deviated from the specifications promulgated by the U.S. Military, the American National Standards Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency in a manner that rendered them unreasonably dangerous,” according to the lawsuit.
Smith seeks damages for medical expenses, pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of wages and earning capacity and more.