Thousands of military veterans around the United States continue to file lawsuits seeking compensation for permanent hearing loss and tinnitus that allegedly resulted from the use of the 3M Company’s Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2.
According to a recent update issued by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on January 15th, there were at least 2,867 Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuits pending in a consolidated proceeding now underway in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida.
All of the claims were filed on behalf of former U.S. military personnel who served in various branches from 2002 through 2015, and who were issued Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, for use during overseas combat deployments and live-fire training exercise during that time.
Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 were developed by Aearo Technologies, which was granted an exclusive contract to provide military earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency in 2002. The 3M Company took over the contract upon acquiring Aearo in 2008.
From 2002 until their discontinuation in 2016, Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were standard issue in all branches of the United States military. The dual-ended devices were designed to be reversible, with the green end able to block all sound, similar to a traditional earplug. The yellow end was intended to protect the eardrum from concussive sounds commonly encountered in combat, while allowing the wearer to hear battlefield commands and other low-level noises.
Plaintiffs claim, however, that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were too short to properly fit certain individuals and could loosen imperceptibly without the wearer even noticing. As a result, the earplugs failed to protect potentially thousands of veterans and were responsible for their permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.
The lawsuits further assert that Aearo Technologies and the 3M Company were aware of these alleged defects, but failed to warn uses or provide instructions for use that would have mitigated the issues. Rather, the defendants manipulated test results and falsely certified that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 met all standards of the military contract.
In July 2018, the 3M Company entered into a $9.1 million federal settlement to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold defective Combat Arms Earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency for over a decade. However, the U.S. Department of Justice did not require 3M to admit liability or compensate veterans who may have been harmed by the devices.
The 3M Company continues to deny that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were in any way defective and has promised to vigorously defend the personal injury claims pending in Florida. In asserting that it cannot be held liable for the plaintiffs’ injuries, 3M maintains that the earplugs’ design reflected the direction and feedback of individuals acting on the military’s behalf.