Veterans who blame the 3M Company’s military earplugs for their service-related hearing loss and tinnitus may now file lawsuits directly in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida.
All federally-filed product liability claims involving 3M Combat Arms Earplug, Version 2, were transferred to the Northern District of Florida, earlier this year, after a judicial panel determined that the cases would benefit from coordinated pretrial proceedings.
The multidistrict litigation already includes around 640 3M military earplugs lawsuits. The Court’s May 6th Direct Filing Order is intended to eliminate delays associated with the transfer of new cases from other federal jurisdictions, and will likely accelerate expansion of the already fast-growing docket.
Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 were standard issue for all U.S. military personnel serving in combat zones throughout the world from 2002 through 2015, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya. They were also distributed to service men and women participating in live-fire combat training exercise at stateside and overseas military bases.
The dual-ended earplugs were designed to be reversible, with the green end blocking all sound in the manner of a traditional earplug. While the yellow end protected the eardrum from damaging concussive sounds commonly encountered in combat, it also allowed the user to hear battlefield commands and other low-level noise.
Unfortunately, hundreds of veterans now claim that 3M’s military earplugs did not work as intended and failed to protect their hearing. Specifically, they assert that the earplugs were too short to fit properly in certain individuals and could loosen imperceptibly while in use. Their lawsuits further allege that the 3M Company and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, were aware of these defects by 2000, but failed to take any corrective actions and falsely certified that the devices met all standards of their military contract.
Aearo Technologies won an exclusive contract to supply Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency in 2002. The 3M Company inherited the contract when it acquired Aearo in 2008.
Last July, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that the 3M Company would pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold defective Combat Arms Earplugs to the military. The settlement stemmed from a whistleblower lawsuit that contained many of the same allegation now being put forth by veterans who used 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2.
The 3M Company did not admit to any liability when it settled the federal complaint and the agreement did not include any provisions to compensate those who may have been harmed by the allegedly defective military earplugs. However, the first personal injury case involving 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 was filed within weeks of the settlements’ announcement.