The 3M Company recently agreed to settle a federal whistleblower lawsuit over allegedly defective military earplugs for $9.1 million.
The settlement, which was announced last July by the U.S. Department of Justice, involved 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2), a dual-ended earplug distributed to military personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat zones from 2002 through 2016.
According to court records, the whistleblower lawsuit was filed under the federal False Claims Act, which allows a private party to sue a contractor on behalf of United States taxpayers for fraud allegedly committed against the federal government.
The Department of Justice has the option of joining the suit and prosecuting the case. If the complaint is successful, the whistleblower is entitled to a portion of the government’s financial recovery.
Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, where developed by Aearo Technologies, Inc., which was acquired by the 3M Company in 2008.
Known as “selective attenuation earplugs,” CAEv2 featured an olive-colored end that functions as a traditional earplug. The yellow end allowed users to hear normal speech and other low-level sounds, while purportedly protecting the eardrum from gunfire, explosions, and other concussive sounds.
The whistleblower lawsuit was filed by a 3M competitor, which claimed the company knowingly sold millions of defective military earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency before the CAEv2 design was discontinued in 2016.
According to the complaint, the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were too short. This could cause the devices to loosen in some individuals. This loosening is imperceptible and exposes the user to damaging sounds, placing them at risk for permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, and ruptured eardrums.
The whistleblower alleged that 3M and Aero Technologies were aware of this defect by 2000. But rather than disclose the problem, they manipulated test results to make it appear that the military earplugs met government standards.
“In addition to damages directly associated with the contractual cost of the earplugs,” the complaint stated, “The United States has been damaged by the large and ongoing medical costs associated with treating veterans who likely suffered hearing damage and impairment as a result of the defective earplugs.”
According to the Justice Department, the whistleblower in this case received $1.9 million as part of the settlement with 3M.
“Today’s settlement will ensure that those who do business with the government know that their actions will not go unnoticed,” Frank Robey, director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s major procurement fraud unit, said in a statement announcing the settlement. “Properly made safety equipment, for use by our (soldiers), is vital to our military’s readiness. Our agents will respond robustly to protect the safety of our military.”
Although it agreed to settle the lawsuit, the 3M Company continues to deny that it sold defective military earplugs to the federal government.
What’s more,the settlement did not include any provisions to compensate military veterans who were allegedly harmed by defective military earplugs. However, they may be be able able to obtain compensation by filing an individual 3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuit of their own.