Retired Marine sues 3M, claims earplugs led to hearing loss

Steve Tawa
February 14, 2019 - 5:42 pm
Retired Marine Capt. Matthew Morrison claims 3M's defective combat earplugs were the direct cause of his total hearing loss in his right ear.

Courtesy of Morrison Family Photos

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A former Marine captain from Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, says he lost much of his hearing due to standard-issue ear plugs during three combat deployments, which have been worn by thousands of other U.S. service members. He's now filed a lawsuit against 3M Company at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia. 

Retired Marine Capt. Matt Morrison claims 3M's defective combat earplugs were the direct cause of his total hearing loss in his right ear. 

"The gear you're issued is everything from a helmet to a flak jacket, eye and ear protection. I never thought that, after the fact, the gear would be faulty or defective and cause this kind of injury," Morrison said. 

Andrew Duffy, a former Naval officer and Morrison's attorney, said service people "deserve battlefield equipment to be state of the art, yet the manufacturer provided earplugs it knew were defective." 

"The testing proved out that what they were representing to the government and our U.S. military was false. It was a lie," Duffy said. 

Morrison's tours of duty between 2007 and 2013 included Iraq - twice - and Afghanistan, exposing him to ground-deployed heavy machine guns, rockets, explosives and small arms fire. 

"I think it's setting an example for the other Marines and service members out there that you shouldn't have to deal with this kind of thing," Morrison said. 

Matthew Morrison.
Courtesy of SMBB

The devices - called 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms - are supposed to provide ear protection in the field. Duffy said 3M touted them as "leading-edge hearing protection," but they had "a dangerous design defect, causing them to imperceptibly loosen in the wearer's ear." 

"This is a blatant example of fraudulent profiteering, and it's at the expense of our military," Duffy said. 

The suit claims it allowed damaging sounds to enter the ear canal, around the outside of the earplug.

"They loosen up because their flaps fold back. That exposes the inner ear to the very harsh noises that the earplugs are supposed to protect it from," Duffy said. 

The devices were developed by Aearo Technologies, which was acquired by 3M in 2008.

Last year, after a "whistle-blower lawsuit," 3M agreed to pay the federal government more than $9 million to settle similar claims that it supplied the U.S. defective earplugs.

Duffy, whose firm specializes in workplace injuries and product liability cases, says the "ineffective earplugs" were issued to every member of the armed forces between 2005 and 2015. 

"These were the most popular deployed earplugs in the military," Duffy said. 

The earplugs are designed to be worn two ways: in the open or "unblocked" position (yellow in ear), to block (olive in ear). That enables wearers to either hear commands being spoken, or to reduce loud impulse sounds.

The 35-year-old Morrison says he's devastated to learn that his hearing was irreparably lost despite taking every precaution. Prior to joining the military, Morrison says he had no signs or symptoms of hearing issues. He was diagnosed with tinnitus and hearing impairment at his discharge medical physical.  

Now, he's urging fellow soldiers to get their hearing checked, adding he wants to make sure what happened to him "can't happen to others."

"The Marine Corps preaches accountable for your actions. I don't see that private business should be held to any different standard," Morrison added. 

3M says it has "a long history of serving the U.S. military," and it continues to "sell products, including safety products, to help our troops and support their missions." Otherwise, 3M says it won't comment on specific litigation.