3M Combat Earplug Lawsuits: What If My Hearing Problems Were Delayed?

Understand how delayed onset of hearing problems linked to combat earplugs could affect the lawsuit-filing deadline.

By , J.D.

If you're an active or veteran servicemember with a history of using 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs, and you're experiencing hearing loss, tinnitus, or related health issues that could be linked to your issued use of this gear, you might be wondering how much time you have to file an injury-related civil lawsuit in court. What if you noticed possibly-related symptoms well after your use of 3M earplugs and maybe long after you were discharged from the military. How do lawsuit-filing deadlines work, especially when hearing problems often don't arise until months or even years after sustained exposure to dangerous levels of noise?

Lawsuit Deadlines Are Set by the Statute of Limitations

In every state, laws called "statutes of limitations" set a limit on how much time can pass before you must get a lawsuit filed. Different deadlines apply to different kinds of cases, but the impact of failing to comply with the time limit is universal: miss the deadline and you've lost your right to get compensation for your losses (damages) via a lawsuit. But while these deadlines are strictly-enforced, every state has carved out exceptions that can extend the filing deadline. (More on these exceptions later).

What Statute of Limitations Applies to a 3M Combat Earplugs Lawsuit?

A lawsuit seeking compensation for hearing loss and related problems caused by the use of 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs will likely be based on the concept of "product liability." This is a fault theory that can be used to hold manufacturers and others (including suppliers in some cases, and possibly even the federal government) responsible for injuries caused by defective products.

In most states, the statute-of-limitations deadline that will apply to a 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs product liability lawsuit is the same as the one that applies to most personal injury lawsuits. But some states have a separate statute of limitations for product liability lawsuits.

Also, the time limit that applies to a product liability lawsuit can depend on the kind of legal argument you're making against the manufacturer or other defendant. For example, a state's rules could make lawsuits based on "strict liability"—a legal theory that requires no proof of fault—subject to a three-year filing deadline. That same state might have a separate deadline of four years for product liability cases alleging negligence.

Most combat earplug lawsuits will argue a strict liability theory of fault, meaning that they would be subject to the three-year period in our hypothetical state. But some people might base their suits on allegations that their earplug-related hearing problems were the result of some level of carelessness on the part of the product manufacturer, a supplier, or perhaps even the U.S. government. Plaintiffs relying on this latter argument would have four years to file their lawsuit in our hypothetical state. (Of course, the law in your state could set a much shorter period than three or four years, which is one reason why consulting a lawyer is so important. Keep in mind also that there is a unique set of rules for filing a lawsuit against the federal government.)

Learn more about how a manufacturer's "failure to warn" can lead to liability, which is the legal argument that has been made in most 3M combat earplugs lawsuits.

The "Discovery Rule" in Combat Earplug Lawsuits

In many kinds of injury cases, including those stemming from hearing loss, tinnitus, and similar health issues linked to 3M combat earplugs, the statute of limitations "clock" might not start running on the date of the service member's last use of this product. Instead, under the "discovery rule," the clock might start only when the current or former servicemember discovers (or should reasonably have discovered) that their injury was caused by defects in the 3M earplugs. Many service members argue that the earliest that they could have learned about the defects in the 3M earplugs was July 2018. July 2018 is when the Department of Justice announced that 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to the United States military in response to allegations that it supplied the military with defective earplugs.

Or the relevant discovery rule could simply provide that the clock starts on the date the service member was diagnosed with or started experiencing symptoms of a hearing problem caused by the product. (Learn more about medical diagnosis in a 3M combat earplugs case.) For example, let's say you last used 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs during training on September 1, 2017, but you didn't experience hearing loss until November 15, 2019. Under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations "clock" might not start until November 15, 2019.

Sorting out Filing Deadlines Is Your Attorney's Job, Not Yours

If you're confused about which statute of limitations applies to your 3M combat earplugs case, and whether you might be entitled to an extension of any filing deadline that's looming (or has already passed), don't worry. It's not your job to understand complex rules like these, let alone figure out how they might affect your case. An attorney will be familiar with the statute of limitations deadline in your state, and can craft a strategy for protecting your rights.

Learn more about finding the right lawyer for you and your 3M case.

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