Depositions taken for thousands of military hearing loss lawsuits suggests some officials with the 3M Company thought it acceptable to conceal defects potentially affecting Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, from individual soldiers and the federal government.
Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were standard issue for all U.S. active duty personnel serving on combat deployments or participating in live-fire training exercises at domestic and overseas military installations from 2002 through 2015. The devices were designed and developed by Aearo Technologies, which in 2002 was granted an exclusive contract to supply military earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency. The 3M Company took over that contract when it acquired Aearo in 2008.
Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, featured a duel-ended design. One end performed like a traditional earplug and blocked all sound once inserted. The other protected the eardrum from explosions and other damaging concussive sounds, but allowed users to hear spoken battlefield commands and other low-level noises.
Since July 2018, more than 140,000 military veterans have filed lawsuits in a federal multidistrict litigation currently underway in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida, alleging Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were defectively designed and responsible for their service-related hearing loss and tinnitus. Among other things, they accuse the 3M Company of designing a specific test that would artificially inflate the earplug’s noise reduction capabilities and withholding that information from wearers and the U.S. military. In doing so, the company allegedly implied that the earplugs could provide a level of noise reduction that wasn’t possible through standard use.
According to a report published by Newsweek on April 29th, a 3M sales representative said he did not believe it was important for soldiers to know the earplugs had been tested in a different way than how they were being used in the field. In a second, a former vice president of Aero Technologies maintained it was acceptable to conceal defects from the government when “the product is working in most cases.”
The 3M Company denies that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were in any way defective and is attempting to have the veterans’ lawsuits dismissed by asserting immunity as a government contractor. When asked about the deposition testimony, the Minnesota-based manufacturer told Newsweek that the military was aware of the earplugs’ test results and the need to train users on their proper use. But plaintiffs dispute this.
In July 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice reached a $9.1 million settlement with the 3M Company to resolve similar allegations that it knowingly sold defective Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, to the United States military for over a decade. However, 3M did not admit any liability nor was it required to pay any compensation to veterans who may have harmed by the earplugs’ alleged defects.