A courageous whistleblower has come forward saying 3M knowingly sold defective earplugs that caused hearing loss to hundreds of thousands of military personnel. Instead of denying it, the company agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve the allegations. These allegations are that it knowingly sold the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) to the United States military and commercial use without disclosing defects that hampered the effectiveness of the hearing protection device.
About 3M Defective Earplugs
Over the years between 2003 and 2015 3M and Aearo Technologies supplied a maximum of 2.2 million earplugs to the US military, to use in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, as an exclusive supplier for the US military for earplugs. The product is only sold to the military.
3M designed the defective CAEv2 earplugs for armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect from hearing loss from 2003 to 2015. Marketing told soldiers that they could flip the devices for more protection around gunfire or explosions. These dual-ended earplugs could offer multiple safety options to protect them. When worn in the “closed” or “blocked” mode, the plugs blocked sound in the fashion of conventional earplugs. When flipped to the yellow end, which is the “open” or “unblocked” position, the ear protection greatly reduces intense impulse sounds on the battlefield. Plus, the open mode would not obstruct quieter noises like approaching combatants or communication from comrades. 3M insisted that these earplugs were the answer to protecting hearing while still being able to perform necessary duties on the battlefield.
3M Altered Study Data
Before the dual-ended earplugs, the military used two sets of earplugs. Therefore, 3M decided to alleviate this need by creating the Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2). However, during testing, researchers couldn’t get the earplugs to block noise at 22 decibels. The earplugs only performed at a 10.9-decibel rating. The researchers discovered that if they folded back the third flange of the earplug in a specific manner than the earplug could then reach the 22-decibel noise cancellation. However, 3M never gave this information to the military. The company included it not on any warning material but a fit guide. Yet, this fit guide never made it to the U.S. military services.
Whistleblower Exposes Defective Earplugs
Moldex-Metric, Inc., a 3M competitor, tried to create their own dual ended earplugs. However, 3M sued the company for patent infringement, which later was dismissed. Then, Moldex upon developing their own ear protection realized that 3M manipulated study data and provided improper usage instruction. Therefore the company filed suit under the Qui Tam False Claims Act. The suit against 3M details that the earplugs were not long enough to permit adequate insertion into the ear. This faulty design prevented the earplugs from maintaining a tight fit. The earplugs would subtlely dislodge, so the military users were unaware that they had little or no protection. The short stem can be difficult to plug deeply into the ear canal for some users. This causes a poor fit. Also, if a soldier wears the earplugs as instructed, it can fold back and loosens its seal with the ear. Both ends experience this defect.
3M may have manipulated test results to deceive the government into believing the earplugs complied with mandatory government specifications. Although the company previously certified their earplugs met Salient Characteristics of Medical Procurement Item Description of Solicitation No. SP0200-06-R-4202 to submit a bid. However, the company knew at the time that their earplugs have defects.
Military Hearing Loss
Many do not even have realized that he or she used these earplugs. The government issued millions of service members with Combat Arms Earplugs while engaging in foreign conflicts. These engagements were:
- The Iraq War
- War in Afghanistan
- Operation Ocean Shield in the Indian Ocean
- The war in North-West Pakistan (part of War on Terror)
- War in Somalia
- Intervention in Libya (2011- part of Libyan Crisis)
- American-led intervention in Iraq (2014 – 2017)
- American-led intervention in Syria (2014 to present)
- Yemeni Civil War (2015 to present)
- American Intervention in Libya (2015 to present)
It has recently been revealed that 3M also sold these earplugs commercially. Commercial packaging is the same as the military ones. Those who may have used these earplugs include:
- United States Border Patrol
3M Defective Earplugs Injuries
The injuries occurring from the 3M defective earplugs include partial or total hearing loss, buzzing or ringing in the ears, or tinnitus from habitual loud noises. Hearing loss and tinnitus constitute the most common form of service-connected disability among U.S. veterans. The harm suffered has a dramatic impact on the lives of veterans, because there is no cure for tinnitus. Plus, these earplugs compounded the injuries since, in 2014, almost 1 million veterans received disability benefits for hearing impairment. This doesn’t include the 1.3 million on disability compensation for tinnitus. Further, James Henry with the VA Portland Healthcare System has indicated that more than 1.6 million veterans are seeking medical care for severe, ongoing tinnitus. This poses challenges for veterans because doctors have great difficulty diagnosing the condition.
Tinnitus is intermittent or continuous ringing, hissing, roaring, buzzing or clicking in the ears. This disturbance can vary in volume levels. However, this is the most common disability among veterans. Extremely damaging levels of sound such as gunfire, aircraft, machinery, explosions, and more damage soldiers’ hearing. Most servicemen and women wear earplugs to help protect their hearing. However, 3M’s Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs used by soldiers are ineffective. This left veterans with life-altering consequences, such as difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and in most cases, the condition is permanent.
To Qualify For Compensation
CAEv2 were standard issue in certain branches of the military during foreign conflicts between 2002 and 2016 and may have caused thousands of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss and tinnitus, and exposed millions more to the risks of hearing damage caused by the allegedly defective earplugs. In order to receive the compensation you deserve, you must:
Have served in the U.S military between 2003 and 2015
Used military issued dual-end earplugs during military service
Have documented unilateral, bilateral hearing loss or tinnitus
Do not have Waardenburg syndrome, Branchiootorenal syndrome, Stickler syndrome, Usher syndrome, Pendred syndrome, Alport syndrome, Otosclerosis, or Meniere’s disease
New 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs MDL
On January 25, 2019, a motion filed with the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation requested that the eight cases currently pending in four judicial districts be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. Other cases exist in federal courts in California, Texas, Oklahoma, and Minnesota. If the court grants the motion, all future injury claims from the earplugs will be sent to Minnesota. This is because Minnesota is where 3M is principally located.
The plaintiff suffers from hearing loss and tinnitus from using these earplugs while serving in the military. The device failed to protect him and other soldiers from damaging noises during training and combat exercises. 3M insisted the product would fit snugly in the ear canal. However, if following 3M’s standard fitting instructions, the edge of the third flange of the non-inserted end of the earplug presses against the wearer’s ear canal and folds back to its original shape, thereby loosening the seal in their ear canals and providing inadequate protection. Due to the symmetrical design, the standard fitting instructions will result in a loosening of the seal no matter which side a soldier uses.
As of Summer 2020, there are 150,000 cases in MDL 2885. Due to COVID-19, Judge M. Casey Rodgers has allowed video conferencing to ensure victims of the 3M defective earplugs receive a speedy trial. There have been 24 bellwether trial cases selected and divided into four groups. The court labeled these cases from A-D. The first trial for Group A cases will begin on April 4, 2021. The proposed schedule for Groups B-D is due at the end of Summer 2020.
3M Defective Earplugs Lawsuit and Benefits
Many clients have asked us if filing a 3M defective earplugs claim could negatively impact their veteran disability benefits. This varies from person to person, and it is best to have a knowledgable attorney like those at The Michael Brady Lynch Firm review your benefits summary. If your benefits are based on income or assets, then a personal injury settlement could impact continued eligibility.
Also, another common question we receive is if a veteran would need to reimburse the VA. The VA and Tricare have recovery rights, however service-connected disability is an exception. This is why it is important to have an experienced litigation expert on your side. An attorney should request copies of any disability determination to ensure there is no likelihood of recovery by the VA.
The Michael Brady Lynch Firm complex litigation attorneys have more than two decades of experience protecting the rights of the injured. We have helped thousands across the country following an unexpected accident, defective product or personal injury claims. After being injured from negligence or malpractice, we will help you recover any compensation owed. This will help pay for medical expenses and other bills incurred from your injury. Therefore if you or a loved one experienced partial or total hearing loss, buzzing in the ears or tinnitus after serving in a foreign conflict and wearing defective earplugs, call us today. Our consultations are completely free. Let’s fight for justice together.