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Mass. military group settles lawsuit brought by man claiming ear damage

Howitzers were fired at the annual change-of-command ceremony organized by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts in 2015.
Howitzers were fired at the annual change-of-command ceremony organized by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts in 2015.Dina Rudick

A Massachusetts military organization that traces its history back to the Colonial era has settled a federal lawsuit brought by a Harvard Business School graduate who says the group’s howitzer fire during a ceremony on Boston Common five years ago caused him permanent hearing loss, according to court documents and an attorney.

The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts agreed last month to settle the suit from A. Michael Davallou, a life sciences and high-tech consultant from Los Angeles, for an undisclosed amount, Davallou’s attorney said Thursday.

Scott E. Charnas said he hopes it may serve as a warning to other military groups and observers about the dangers of such noises.

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“I think it’s Important the public know this is not a joke and it’s not to be ignored,” Charnas said.

Michael Cullen, an attorney for the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, said, “The matter has settled between the parties, and there are confidentiality provisions contained in the settlement agreement. We have no further comment about it at this time.”

Headquartered at Faneuil Hall, the company calls itself “the oldest chartered military organization in the western hemisphere.” Chartered in 1638 as a volunteer militia company, the organization now works mostly to celebrate and promote American history.

The federal government was originally named as a codefendant, but the case against it was dropped for technical reasons, Charnas said. He is now appealing that dismissal.

According to Charnas, his client lost 30 percent of his hearing and developed tinnitus, or a constant ringing in his ears, after he came across an annual event that involves howitzer fire while strolling through Boston Common on June 1, 2015.

“He had sustained immediate pain in both ears, particularly his left ear,” Charnas said, adding that in the coming days Davallou was to develop further symptoms, including hyperacusis, a rare disorder that can make ordinary noises seem painfully loud.

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The “Change of Command Ceremony” typically involves two to three howitzers, Charnas said. A howitzer is a type of artillery smaller than a cannon.

Davallou later hired an engineer to return for three years in a row to measure the sound from the howitzer fire at the annual ceremony. The engineer found that the volume reaches a minimum of 145 to 155 decibels, Charnas said.

Noises louder than 120 decibels can cause immediate damage to ears, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misstated the year the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company was chartered. It happened in 1638.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.