The 3M Company is facing mounting lawsuits over allegedly defective military earplugs that were supposed to protect United States soldiers from dangerous, ear-damaging sounds.
The litigation began to mount last month, when 11 lawsuits were filed nationwide by veterans who claim their hearing loss or other hearing impairments were caused by 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2).
These dual-ended earplugs were standard issue for United States military personnel serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat zones between 2003 and 2015. The earplugs’ olive end blocked sounds in the manner of a traditional earplug, while the yellow end protected the eardrum from damaging impact sounds, like gunfire and explosions.
Aearo Technologies, Inc. actually developed the CAEv2 design. In 2002, the company won an exclusive contract to supply the military earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics.
3M inherited the contract when it acquired Aearo Technologies in 2008.
“I served active duty Army from 2012 to 2015 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2014,” Army veteran Kevin Cronin recently told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I went into the military with great hearing and left active duty with drastic hearing loss and tinnitus.”
Like other plaintiffs involved in the growing litigation, Cronin claims 3M’s military earplugs were too short to fit properly and could loosen without the wearer even noticing. When this occurred, the user was exposed to dangerous sounds that can cause permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, or eardrum ruptures.
Cronin and other plaintiffs further assert that Aero Technologies knew the CAEv2 design was defective by 2000, but falsified results from its internal noise reduction rating (NRR) test in order to conceal the problem from the military.
CAEv2 were standard issue for over a decade, so thousands of United States military veterans could be eligible to join this growing litigation. For that reason, attorneys recently asked the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to centralize all federally-filed 3M military earplugs lawsuits in single U.S. District Court for coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings.
The 3M Company discontinued CAEv2 in 2015.
Just three years later, the company reached a $9.1 million with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve claims that it knowingly sold defective military earplugs to the federal government.
“The settlement announced today resolves allegations that 3M violated the False Claims Act by selling or causing to be sold defective earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency,” the Justice Department stated. “Specifically, the United States alleged that 3M, and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc., knew the CAEv2 was too short for proper insertion into users’ ears and that the earplugs could loosen imperceptibly and therefore did not perform well for certain individuals. The United States further alleged that 3M did not disclose this design defect to the military.”
3M did not admit to any wrongdoing when it settled the case. In fact, the company continues to deny that its military earplugs were defective.
“3M has a long history of serving the U.S. military,” a spokesperson said in a statement released to Military.com. “We have sold and continue to sell thousands of products to help our troops and support their missions. Safety is a key component of what we do for the United States military, and 3M denies that Combat Arms Earplugs caused injuries.”