Maple Valley resident Dominic Spadaro noticed a change in his hearing about eight years ago. He would go out to a loud restaurant and find himself struggling to keep up with the conversations and would have to lip read more often than not.
Spadaro served in the military from 2003 to 2007 as a field artillery officer and explained that lip reading was very common when serving, so he didn’t think it was too odd to read people’s lips while they were talking.
Then, he started working in the audiology field where he learned more about hearing loss and the effects of it.
“A couple of the doctors I worked with said, ‘Hey, let’s test your hearing.’ And sure enough I have hearing loss,” Spadaro said.
He explained he has what’s called “noise notch.” Noise notch is when someone has a harder time hearing high frequencies and now he wears hearing aids. He also has what’s known as tinnitus, which causes loud ringing in the ears.
It wasn’t until about six months ago that Spadaro realized what he hearing problems were from — earplugs.
Not just any earplugs though, Combat Arms earplugs distributed by the company 3M.
The intention of these specific ear plugs was to protect combat veterans’ ears while they were serving or training from loud sounds such as explosions, but still allowed them to hear voices so that they could communicate with one other, according to Spadaro.
“A big problem in combat is when people start shooting and stuff, if you’re wearing ear protection like this you can’t hear anybody’s voices. The idea with these was with that hole in there was to allow you to be able to hear the voices and still be able to shoot, move and communicate,” he explained.
The problem with the earplugs according to Spadaro is they didn’t do what they were supposed to do and a lot of veterans who used these earplugs between 2003 and 2015 suffered from hearing loss or more commonly, tinnitus.
According to a website dedicated to a large, national lawsuit against 3M Military Earplugs, the duel sided earplugs’ stems were too short for proper insertion into the users’ ears, and the earplugs could loosen while in use.
Spadaro used the earplugs starting in 2003 right before he deployed for Iraq, and then continued using them in his civilian life when he would go shooting at a gun range or something along those lines.
Texas based attorney Andrew Cobos is one of the head lawyers who is actively helping veterans sue 3M so they can be compensated for their hearing problems directly related to the 3M earplugs.
Cobos, who’s also a veteran who used the earplugs, said there is evidence that 3M allegedly sold these earplugs to the government knowing the earplugs didn’t do what 3M said they would do.
“(3M) knew that it was defective. Yet, they allowed the US Government to continue to buy them and to proliferate them throughout the various services. A lot of folks not knowing any different — I mean you get a piece of equipment and you assume that it works. They would stick these in their ears and they would go out there and sure enough experience loud noises,” Cobos explained. “There are documents that support these theories and these are allegations that we made in the course of a lawsuit that will be proven at trial and ultimately at the end of the day, the finder of fact, the jury, will come to a conclusion and they’ll say ‘Yes, 3M knew that they were defective yet they sold them anyway.’”
He said he truly believes that 3M knew these earplugs didn’t work because the documents they have show 3M preformed multiple tests on the earplugs and skewed the findings by removing the lowest performing numbers. This made the earplugs seem like they performed well more often than not.
He explained that the testing was based on how many decibels were not being pushed into the ear canals. He also said 3M would insert the device into the ear in various ways in order to get the earplugs to actually work and soldiers didn’t know that.
By defrauding the government, 3M went against The False Claims Act, which imposes liability on companies who defraud the government, the lawsuit website alleges.
Based on this accusation, 3M and the U.S. government reached a separate settlement alleging 3M knew the issues with the earplugs without informing the military.
Cobos said there are possibly over 10,000 people who have been affected by hearing loss because of the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs. His team alone at Bellrose and Cobos are representing about 2,600 people as of press deadline.
The lawsuit is still in the beginning stages, but a court has been appointed to hear these cases in the northern district of Florida, Cobos said.
Those who have been affected by the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs between 2003 and 2015 can still file a claim to be apart of the lawsuit against 3M, Cobos said.
Spadaro said he joined this lawsuit because he wants to seek justice for those who used the earplugs and now have problems with their hearing.
“I mean you serve doing this because we’re here to serve the country and you’re fighting next to your brothers and sisters in arms and then you expect the government to be giving you proper protective equipment that is actually going to protect you and it’s just frustrating that a company would knowingly give you stuff and wearing it thinking it’s protecting you, knowing that it’s faulty,” Spadaro explained.
If you would like to know more information about the 3M Military Lawsuit, go to militaryearplug.com/#FAQs.