The multidistrict litigation involving the 3M Company’s allegedly defective military earplugs is growing quickly, as the number of filings in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida, surpassed 900 this month.
All of the cases involve 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, (CAEv2), which were standard issue for United States military personnel on combat assignments from 2002 through 2015. Plaintiffs are largely combat veterans who blame their service-related hearing loss and/or tinnitus on the earplugs’ allegedly defective design.
In January, several of these plaintiffs asked the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to centralize all federally-filed 3M military earplugs lawsuits in a single jurisdiction. At the time, there were just eight cases pending in federal courts throughout the United States. But by the time the Panel transferred the docket to the Northern District of Florida in April, it had grown to include more than 600 claims.
Hundreds of additional cases have since been filed in the Northern District of Florida. In fact, the most-recent update posted on the JPML’s website indicates that 960 3M military earplugs lawsuits were pending in the centralized proceeding as of June 19th.
The CAEv2 design was actually developed by Aearo Technologies, Inc., which was acquired the 3M Company in 2008.
Their unique dual-ended design allowed users to reverse the earplugs depending on their needs, with the green end blocking all sound. However, the yellow end protected the eardrums from gunfire, explosions, and other damaging sounds typically encountered in combat, while allowing the user to hear battlefield commands and other low-level noises.
Veterans pursuing 3M military earplugs lawsuits allege that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were too short to properly fit some individuals and could loosen without the wearer even noticing. These alleged defects left users unprotected on the battlefield and caused thousands of active duty personnel to suffer permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.
Plaintiffs further assert that Aearo Technologies first became aware of these issues in 2000, two years before being granted an exclusive contract to provide military earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency. Yet neither Aearo or 3M took any corrective action, and instead falsely certified that CAEv2 met all standards of the military contract.
The 3M Company denies that Combat Arms Earplugs were in any way defective. However, in July 2018, the company agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle federal allegations that it knowingly sold defective earplugs to the United States military.
The whistleblower lawsuit was filed by a 3M competitor in accordance with the federal False Claims Act, which allows private parties to sue government contractors for fraud on behalf of taxpayers. The allegations in the whistleblower complaint echo those put forth by veterans who have since filed 3M military earplugs lawsuits for hearing loss and tinnitus.
The 3M Company settled the whistleblower lawsuit after the U.S. Department of Justice elected to join and prosecute the case. But the agreement did not require 3M to admit liability or compensate any veterans who may have been harmed by CAEv2.