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Veteran Blames Earplug Defect for Hearing Loss

Sandra Burbano gets emotional talking about the toll of living with hearing loss and tinnitus.

"It's hard," Sandra said. "I know how this has been affecting my loved ones, how it affected me – something that will never be repaired."

The 41-year-old mother said she frequently hears a distracting sound.

"It's just all of a sudden I can be watching TV, I can be talking, I can be driving the car and you hear that beep," Sandra said.

Other times, Sandra said she had difficulty with conversations over the phone and sometimes even in person.

"There's people who has claimed that they talk to me," she said. "It's just I don't hear them."

Sandra served in the Navy between 2004 and 2013 and was deployed abroad, often working on the flight deck.

"It's very loud," she said.

She said she used earplugs during her service, including some that looked like a replica of the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs her attorney said he had made after he couldn't find an actual set to buy. She said the ear protection would sometimes fall out.

"So many times I used to wear them thinking, oh, it's me, it's my ear," she said. "Maybe the shape of my ear is different."

But Sandra said she now believes the earplugs she used had a design defect that led to her hearing problems.

Attorney Marcus Susen says he represents Sandra and about 100 others who share that concern.

"The allegations are that 3M, the manufacturer, knew that the earplugs were too short and when they were too short, what happened was they wouldn't remain stable in the ear canal, they'd become loose and allow sound to come in," Marcus said.

The Coral Springs woman had not filed a lawsuit yet, but several others had in different states across the country.

3M sent NBC 6 the following statement: "3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world and their safety is our priority. We have a long history of partnering with the U.S. military, and we continue to make products to help protect our troops and support their missions. We deny this product was defectively designed and will defend against the allegations in these lawsuits through the legal process."

Sandra, meanwhile, said she hoped her story would help others who may be suffering in silence.

"I realize that if it happened to me, I wonder how many other service members got affected?" Sandra said.

Last year, 3M reached a settlement with the Justice Department, agreeing to pay more than $9 million to resolve allegations that the company did not disclose to the military that the earplugs had defects impacting their effectiveness. According to a press release from the Justice Department, there was no determination of liability in that settlement. The settlement was separate from the individual lawsuits that had been filed.

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