In less than two years, the multidistrict litigation established for product liability lawsuits involving the 3M Company’s Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, (CAEV2) has grown to include over 207,000 filings.
According to an update issued earlier this month by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, a total of 207,702 3M military earplugs lawsuits were pending in the Northern District of Florida as of December 15th. All of the claims were filed on behalf of former U.S. military personnel who developed hearing loss and/or tinnitus allegedly due to their use of CAEV2 while on active duty from 2002 through 2015.
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 during that time period. The military earplugs were designed and developed by Aearo Technologies, which was granted an exclusive contract to supply the devices to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency in 2002. The 3M Company took over that contract when it acquired Aearo in 2008.
The CAEV2 design was dual-ended. When the green end was inserted, the devices blocked all sound in the manner of traditional earplugs. The yellow end ostensibly protected the eardrums from gunfire, explosions, and other damaging concussive noises typically encountered during combat. However, the wearer was still able to hear spoken commands and other low-level noises.
Currently, more than 1.7 million veterans receive compensation for tinnitus, and more than 1.1 million veterans get it for hearing loss. Even though military earplugs are standard issue in every branch of the service, veterans are 30% more likely to suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus than the general population. According to the Veterans Administration, those who served after Sept. 11, 2001, are four times more likely to develop hearing problems.
Veterans pursuing 3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuits claim the CAEV2 design was too short to fit certain individuals and failed to form a protective seal. They also assert that the earplugs’ manufacturers were aware of these defects as early as 2000, but manipulated test results and falsely certified Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, met all military contract standards.
In July 2018, the 3M Company entered into a $9.1 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold defective Combat Arms Earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency for over a decade. Although those claims echo the allegations put forth by veterans now suing 3M, the settlement agreement did not require the company to admit liability or compensate those who might have been harmed.
The multidistrict litigation underway in Florida was established in April 2019 to allow all federally-filed injury claims involving CAEV2 to undergo coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings. At that time, fewer than 700 cases were transferred to the consolidated proceeding.
3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuits could begin going to trial in April 2021.