The 3M Company is facing more than 200 lawsuits involving Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, the duel-ended military earplugs issued to active duty service personnel serving in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, and Reserves from 2003 through 2015.
According to a document filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation last month, thousands of plaintiffs could file similar military earplugs lawsuits in the future.
Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were initially developed by Aearo Technologies, Inc., which was acquired by the 3M Company in 2008. From 2003 through 2015, Aearo Technologies, and then 3M, held an exclusive contract to supply these earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency.
3M describes Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, as a “revolutionary breakthrough in hearing protection for the military.” The yellow end of the dual-ended earplugs blocked gunfire, explosions, and other concussive sound that could damage the eardrum, while the green end acted like a traditional earplug and blocked all sound.
In 2013, the 3M Company agreed to pay $9.1 billion to the federal government to resolve claims that it knowingly sold defective military earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency.
Specifically, federal prosecutors alleged that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were too short to fit properly, and could loosen imperceptibly in certain individuals. Although Aearo Technologies allegedly knew about these problems in 2000, it never informed the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency and falsely certified that the military earplugs met contract standards.
Since then, a growing number of U.S. veterans have filed military earplugs lawsuits against the 3M Company for service-related hearing loss and tinnitus they claim were caused by these same defects.
“I know most of us don’t like handouts and we’re not looking for handouts ever, but if we attach ourselves to something like this, and anything else,” plaintiff Lloyd Carroll recently told WAVY.com “The more of us that do it, it gets the word out there, we should all be doing that.”
Carroll served with the U.S. Amy in Korea and Iraq from 2002 through 2005, and as an infantry soldier was regularly exposed to the sounds of explosions and guns. He has experienced worsening tinnitus since returning home from Iraq and believes Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, are to blame.
“We were all under the assumption that they were protecting us,” he said.
Carroll is hoping his military earplugs lawsuit and others like it will hold 3M accountable and encourage the federal government to take a more critical stance when awarding military contracts.
On March 28th, the JPML will convene a hearing to determine if all federally-filed 3M military earplugs lawsuits should be centralized before a single judge in one U.S. District Court.