In February 2019, Kansas Army veteran Kelby Rice filed a lawsuit against 3M, the manufacturer of the standard-issue Duel-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEV2) earplugs that he and his comrades used during their enlistment. Rice's lawsuit against 3M claims the company knew its product was defective but continued to sell the earplugs to the United States Military for more than 10 years.
Rice used the CAEV2 earplugs regularly throughout his career, both while training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and while stationed in Iraq. In early 2019, Rice started experiencing symptoms associated with tinnitus. Rice's lawsuit is just one of many now flooding U.S. courts, months after the Department of Justice reached a $9.1 million settlement with 3M over the CAEV2 earplug defects in July of 2018.
With increasing reports of occupational hearing loss, especially among military veterans, audiologists play an important role in identifying hearing issues among veterans. In addition to more than 81,000 instances of hearing loss among first-time benefit recipients, the 2017 VA Benefits Report cited 159,800 cases of tinnitus. Plaintiffs in the CAEV2 lawsuits have reported symptoms of hearing damage, including tinnitus or ringing in the ears, issues with balance such as vertigo, and in extreme cases, severe or permanent hearing loss.
Military personnel may be asked to perform tasks that expose them to loud equipment or operating conditions that often exceeds what the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has deemed safe for civilian workplaces. OSHA's Hearing Conservation Program is designed to prevent hearing impairment and promote a safe working environment for civilian employees. Typical OSHA requirements limit employee exposure to sound exceeding a time-weighted average noise level of 85 decibels or higher over an eight-hour work shift.
By comparison, a soldier in the workplace or deployed in combat is likely to encounter between 103 dB and +180 dB, sometimes on a daily basis. Because of this, military personnel are issued protective equipment including but not limited to earplugs or earmuffs to protect their hearing against both constant and impulsive noises.
Hearing protection is essential in all workplaces. Furthermore, when it comes to education, it's important that military personnel, are informed and prepared for potential hearing complications in the future. Above all, these cases illuminate the need for strict standards and regulations when it comes to new product testing. The cost and potential gain when developing, designing, and releasing protective hearing devices should never take precedence over the safety of its users.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joseph Oot is a consumer advocate specializing in consumer legal issues including current litigation surrounding dangerous, contaminated, or defective products. His work connects him with both local and national organizations, all centered on assisting consumers, researchers, and professionals alike.