The Baltimore-based Law Offices of Peter Angelos have joined a host of firms across the country beginning to file lawsuits against the St. Paul, Minn-based 3M Co. over earplugs it provided the military that were alleged to be defective by the U.S. Justice Department.
The first local case against 3M was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Maryland by Joshua M. Keiner, an Army combat veteran who served two tours in Iraq and was issued the earplugs.
The suits on behalf of service members come after 3M settled a federal lawsuit in July for $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly supplied the U.S. military with defective earplugs. The suit was brought under the False Claims Act after a whistle-blower complaint.
The company did not admit liability in the settlement, according to the Justice Department, though officials had alleged the CAEv2 plugs, called Combat Arms, were too short for proper insertion in users’ ears and 3M didn’t disclose the defect.
The earplugs were initially created by Aearo Technologies, which 3M bought in 2008. The companies held an exclusive contract to supply earplugs to active combat personnel between 2003 and 2012. The Justice Department suit and Keiner’s complaint allege the defect allowed them to come loose in a wearer’s ear, allowing damaging noise through.
Hearing impairments, including constant ringing from tinnitus, can be debilitating and permanent and had been the No. 1 service-connected disability reported among veterans since 2005, the Government Accountability Office reported in 2011. Tinnitus and hearing loss remain top health conditions at Veterans Affairs medical centers, costing the department billions in benefit claims, according to the complaint.
Keiner said in his suit that he suffered from tinnitus in addition to other damages that led to loss of wages, medical care costs and pain and suffering.
The company did not comment on the Angelos lawsuit, but released a statement.
“3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world,” the company said in the statement. “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.”
With similar lawsuits being filed around the country, Jay Miller, the lead Angelos attorney in the case, said in an email that he expects the cases will become what’s called multidistrict litigation, a legal procedure for complex cases in federal court in which common cases are consolidated in one district for pretrial proceedings and discovery.
“We have been contacted by thousands of veterans and expect the issue to continue to grow...,” Miller said. “We plan to file hundreds more lawsuits in the coming weeks and months to ensure each veteran that has been damaged by these defective ear plugs is compensated.”
Angelos, who owns the Baltimore Orioles, made his legal fortune representing industrial workers in a massive class-action suit against the asbestos industry and the firm continues to pursue other similar mass cases.