Product liability lawsuits are being filed on behalf of military veterans and service members across the country who allegedly used defective combat earplugs manufactured by 3M Company and subsequently suffered hearing loss, tinnitus and other hearing-related medical conditions. According to allegations raised in the lawsuits, 3M Company and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies Inc., knowingly sold defective dual-ended combat arms earplugs to the United States military for more than a decade, without disclosing design defects that prevented the earplugs from providing adequate hearing protection. If you or a loved one served in the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015, used dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, and subsequently suffered hearing loss or another hearing problem, you should speak to a knowledgeable product liability lawyer as soon as possible to find out if you are eligible to file a defective combat earplugs lawsuit against 3M.
The allegedly defective earplugs in question are the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) sold by 3M Company and used by the United States military for combat missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zones, and for training exercises in the U.S. Known as “selective attenuation earplugs,” the 3M earplugs were marketed as being “dual-ended,” which, if they worked properly, meant they could be inserted one way to block out all noise, or the other way to provide protection from loud blasts, while still being able to hear commands, conversations and other low-level sounds. Unfortunately, alleged defects in the design of the earplugs meant that they not only loosened in the ear during use, but were also too short to provide adequate protection against loud noises like explosions, shelling and other gunfire. The dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs were standard-issue for members of the U.S. military from 2003 to 2015, but were discontinued in 2015.
Military service members and veterans are pursuing compensation from 3M Company for allegedly knowingly selling combat arms earplugs with design defects that caused the earplugs to dislodge from users’ ears, thereby exposing military men and women to gunfire, explosions, constant noise such as that from armored vehicles and aircraft, and other damaging, concussive sounds commonly found in combat situations. According to reports, this type of high-level noise from aircraft or weapons in combat or training is a common cause of the following conditions among military veterans:
Information about the potentially defective 3M combat arms earplugs first surfaced in 2016, when a federal whistleblower lawsuit was filed against 3M by a competitor in the earplug market, Moldex-Metric Inc., accusing 3M of violating the False Claims Act by selling defective earplugs to the U.S. military. According to allegations raised in the whistleblower lawsuit, 3M and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, knew that the CAEv2 were too short to be properly inserted into certain users’ ears, a design defect that allowed the earplugs to loosen imperceptibly and put users at risk for hearing loss and other irreversible hearing problems. At the time the whistleblower lawsuit was resolved, in July 2018, the DOJ issued the following statement: “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the men and women serving in the United States military from defective products and fraudulent conduct. Government contractors who seek to profit at the expense of our military will face appropriate consequences.”
Since 3M’s settlement with the DOJ, a growing number of lawsuits continue to be filed against 3M Company, these representing individual claims that tie into the same allegations raised in the Moldex-Metric case, namely that Aearo and 3M knew about the earplug defects and had the chance to fix the problem, but decided not to. The lawsuits, brought by veterans who allegedly suffered hearing loss, tinnitus and other hearing problems from the defective earplugs, additionally claim that the earplug design defect was first discovered as early as 2000, but that Aearo deliberately falsified the company’s internal noise reduction rating (NRR) test results, thereby allowing the faulty products to be sold to the military for more than a decade. Says Kevin Cronin, an Army veteran who now wears hearing aids, “I served active duty Army from 2012 to 2015 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. I went into the military with great hearing and left active duty with drastic hearing loss and tinnitus.”
July 2018 – 3M Company agrees to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations by the DOJ that the company supplied the United States with defective dual-ended combat arms earplugs.
January 2019 – A motion is filed to centralize all pending 3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuits as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL).
February 2019 – A U.S. Army veteran files a lawsuit in Kansas City, alleging that 3M Company’s defective earplugs caused his hearing to be damaged.
February 2019 – At least a dozen lawsuits have been brought against 3M so far, all of which involve similar allegations that the company knowingly sold defective earplugs to the military for years.
The defective combat arms earplugs at the heart of the litigation against 3M were originally manufactured by Aearo Technologies, which won an exclusive contract to supply military earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency in 2003, and when 3M acquired Aearo in 2008, it also assumed all of the company’s liabilities, the lawsuits against 3M claim. According to reports, the defective combat arms earplugs were sold to the military for more than 10 years, without the design defect being disclosed, which put thousands of service members and veterans at an unnecessary risk for hearing loss and other hearing-related problems. A growing number of lawsuits are being filed against 3M over hearing problems allegedly caused by the defective earplugs, and these lawsuits allege that 3M and/or Aearo:
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States, and hearing loss and tinnitus are the Department of Veteran Affairs’ two most prevalent service-related disabilities, with more than 2.5 million cases annually. Unfortunately, it turns out that the earplugs that were standard-issue for members of the U.S. military from 2003 to 2015 failed to provide the critical noise cancelling protection they were meant to. A least a dozen individual lawsuits have already been filed against 3M and thousands more are expected to be filed in the coming months and years, as military veterans and service members learn that their hearing loss and other hearing problems may have been caused by defective earplugs. If you believe you may have suffered hearing loss from defective combat arms earplugs, contact our consumer advocates at Consumer Justice Foundation today. We are committed to protecting the rights of those harmed by defective products and we can help put you in touch with an experienced product liability lawyer who can determine whether you qualify for a defective combat earplugs lawsuit.