Approximately 640 lawsuits have been assigned to a U.S. district court in Florida. The cases are part of multidistrict litigation (MDL) against 3M, a Minnesota-based company that allegedly manufactured and sold allegedly defective earplugs to the Department of Defense.
The plaintiffs of these cases are military veterans who claim that their significant hearing loss or tinnitus is due to 3M’s military earplugs product.
If you or a loved one was issued these earplugs and has since suffered hearing problems, you may have legal options. Here is everything you need to know about 3M earplug lawsuits.
The Design Flaw
The product named in the current MDL is the Combat Arms Earplugs (CAE v2), which was originally designed and manufactured by Aearo Technologies. In 2008, 3M purchased the company and its product for $1.2 billion.
Discontinued in 2015, the earplugs were a double-ended, green and yellow design. When inserted, the green end was intended to block all sound. The yellow end was supposed to reduce loud sounds, such as gunfire and explosives, while still allowing soldiers to hear commands.
The lawsuits allege that the earplugs were too short for proper insertion, causing them to disengage or become loose to the point where loud noise was allowed to penetrate the device.
According to complaints, Aearo and 3M knew about the dangerous design defect as far back as the year 2000 and developed a modification so that the device would meet the required standards.
Plaintiffs, however, claim that 3M never warned them of the defect or how to modify the product for it to effectively block out sound.
3M Earplugs Failed to Protect Veterans
The two major issues that have been associated with the earplugs are hearing loss and tinnitus.
Tinnitus causes one to hear noises in their ears such as ringing, buzzing, clicking, or humming. For some, the condition can become disabling.
Joseph Junk, who was issued 3M earplugs when he served in the Army, told CBS News, “What is quiet? What’s peace? I know for me personally, I don’t have it. All I hear is ringing if there’s no noise around me. If I do not have noise around me, it’s maddening. It is torture.”
Hearing problems are not new to military service members. In fact, veterans are 30 percent more likely to suffer severe hearing impairment than non-veterans, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
However, 3M earplugs were designed and marketed to help protect service members, yet more and more continue to report that they have been affected by hearing injuries despite wearing the earplugs.
“We’ve just been told that, ‘This is the equipment you get and it’s the best out there. It’s gonna save your hearing,’ Junk said. “Later on, we found out that it didn’t really protect our hearing that much at all.”
3M Paid $9.1M Settlement
3M recently agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle a case with the government but admitted no liability.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed the lawsuit against 3M and Aearo Technologies. The suit claimed that 3M failed to disclose the defects before selling their earplugs to the military, despite being well aware of the risks, thus violating the False Claims Act.
In a news release, the DOJ stated, “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.”
Although 3M did settle the lawsuit with the government, the military members who were affected by the allegedly defective earplugs have not received compensation.
Is This Just the Beginning?
The damaging effects of 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs are widespread, as the number of service members coming forward continues to grow.
The military’s contract with 3M dates back to 2006 and involves an estimated 15,000 packages delivered every year each containing around 50 pairs of earplugs.
While the current MDL proceedings consist of approximately 640 plaintiffs, the number of military members who were issued the earplugs in combat actions in Afghanistan and Iraq could be in the tens or hundreds of thousands.
3M’s actions have affected a large number of people who served their country and relied on their gear to protect them in dangerous conditions. Due to the widespread damage, the earplugs have caused, these lawsuits are just the beginning of an effort to hold 3M accountable for their misconduct.
Do You Have a Case?
Are you a current or former member of the U.S. military who has suffered hearing damage after wearing 3M military earplugs between 2002 and 2015? You may be entitled to compensation.
The Goldwater Law Firm partners with experienced attorneys who will help you determine whether you qualify to file a 3M earplug lawsuit. While a lawsuit can’t erase the damage that’s been done, it can provide compensation for the medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, you’ve been forced to endure.