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Sarasota Attorney Suing Earplug Maker On Behalf of Veterans

Bill Robertson says 3M made a defective product that didn’t protect the hearing of members of the military.

Sarasota attorney Bill Robertson is pursuing legal claims against the manufacturer of potentially defectiveearplugs worn in combat by military veterans.

The company, 3M, agreed to pay $9.1 million in July 2018 as part of a settlement to resolve claims it manufactured and sold the faulty earplugs to the military between 2002 and 2016.

“It troubles me that these guys were out there shooting, fighting and getting killed and injured and they were equipped with defective products that didn’t work,” Robertson said. “They deserved the best and they didn’t get it.”

The earplugs were dual-ended, which led to a loosening that allowed potentially damaging sounds to enter the ear canal, causing hearing loss and tinnitus, a condition consisting of ringing or buzzing sounds
or the constant presence of a high-pitched whistle. Tinnitus, according to experts, can lead to such mental health disorders as depression and anxiety.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, veterans are 30 percent more likely than non-veterans to develop hearing loss problems, and those who served after 2001 are four times more
likely.

More than 2.7 million vets receive disability benefits for hearing loss and tinnitus, and Robertson said the litigation would not affect any veteran’s ability to receive disability benefits. He also said that the $9.1 million 3M forfeited went to the government as a fine and was not awarded to any individual plaintiffs.

The standard-issue earplugs were called Combat Arms Earplugs (CAEv2). They were originally made by Aero Technologies before being acquired by 3M. They were discontinued in 2015.

They were the exclusive product, according to Robertson, that was used by service members in the Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force to fight conflicts in Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Syria and Libya.

Being in close proximity to heavy artillery and IEDs while using defective earplugs were not the only factor in hearing loss, Robertson said. Soldiers firing millions of rounds on ranges while wearing the
earplugs were also major causes, he said.

Robertson said it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact time of an injury in personal injury cases. This case, he said, is different because military hopefuls must pass hearing tests before they can be admitted into the service.

Robertson said a Facebook page and website has been set up so veterans can get information and assistance. Those seeking damages will not incur expenses unless compensation is recovered, and veterans will receive a 10 percent discount on his fees.

“Our soldiers volunteer to stand in harm’s way for our freedom and deserve nothing but the finest protection against injury,” Robertson said. “It is infuriating to me that 3M would knowingly produce millions of defective earplugs that would put thousands of soldiers at risk for hearing loss.

“We will fight for our nation’s heroes to recover the money they deserve to help heal their suffering.”