AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Army veteran living in Round Rock, Texas is joining the thousands of veterans who are suing Minnesota-based company 3M over earplugs the company sold to the military.
The veterans say they have a variety of hearing problems because these plugs did not adequately protect their ears during training and combat. They also believe that 3M knew about defects in theses earplugs, but sold them to the U.S. government anyway.
Lloyd Carroll lives in Round Rock with his family and he has experienced tinnitus (ringing in his ears) since he came home from a deployment in Iraq. But it was just weeks ago that Carroll realized from news reports and conversations in the veteran community that the ringing in his ears could have been caused by the Combat Arms earplugs he used.
“Wife likes to call it selective hearing,” he laughed. But in all seriousness, he believes his symptoms have increased over the years.
“I really think my hearing’s getting worse.”
Carroll was deployed both to Korea and to Iraq during his time in the Army, which spanned from 2002 to 2005. He described the noise in combat as “like the Fourth of July, but every day.”
“I was an infantry soldier, so I was around the loudness, the explosions, the fire, the guns,” he said.
He explained that he and many other soldiers he worked with were all given the 3M earplugs.
“We were all under the assumption that they were protecting us,” he said.
During the time between 2003 and 2015, 3M had an exclusive contract to supply these earplugs to the military.
Carroll explained that he is not suing for money, but rather to add his name to the growing list of veterans who think it was wrong that so many military members received these earplugs, only to suffer hearing problems.
“If I can speak for it, and speak for everybody else, and it helps, that’s all I’m looking to do.”
Carroll hopes that lawsuits like his hold 3M accountable and push the government to think more critically about who they offer contracts to the military with.
“I know most of us don’t like handouts and we’re not looking for handouts ever, but if we attach ourselves to something like this, and anything else. The more of us that do it, it gets the word out there, we should all be doing that.”
Carroll is represented by the firms Bell Rose & Cobos as well as Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz. One of the attorneys named on these lawsuits, Muhammad Aziz, explained that they are working on 134 cases with veterans suing 3M in Texas courts. Aziz added that they have almost 1,471 veteran clients all over the country who are suing 3M now.
Thousands of other veterans in other states have filed lawsuits as well.
On March 28, a federal panel in Washington, D.C. will decide whether to consolidate all of these cases from around the country and what place is best suited for all of these cases to be heard at. Several Texas lawyers have filed motions to have these cases all seen before judges in the Austin or Waco Divisions of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
KXAN reached out to 3M last week for a comment on these lawsuits, they replied saying:
“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.”
These lawsuits have been bubbling up all over the country ever since July 2018 when 3M agreed in a settlement to pay $9.1 million dollars to the U.S. government last fall after allegations that the company knowingly sold defective earplugs to the military. The company did not admit liability in this case.
This was during a federal whistleblower lawsuit which alleged that the testing of these earplugs was flawed.
In that case, the government argued that the company knew their earplugs were too short and that they could loosen without being noticed. The government argued that as a result, the plugs didn’t block out all sounds and led to hearing problems.
One of the lawsuits filed in the Austin Division against 3M reads: “These 3M employees were aware of the defects as early as 2000, several years before 3M/Aearo became the exclusive provider of the earplugs to the military.”