3M Military Earplugs Lawsuits Move Forward, with First Federal Trial Set to Begin

Published on March 17, 2021 by Laurie Villanueva

More than a quarter-million lawsuits involving the 3M Company’s Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEV2), continue to move forward in the U.S. District, Northern District of Florida, where the first bellwether trial is scheduled to get underway on Monday, March 29th.

The trial is intended to serve as a test case and could provide valuable insight into how other juries might resolve similar hearing loss claims involving the same 3M military earplugs.

Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2: History and Background

Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were standard issue for all U.S. active-duty military personnel serving on combat deployments or taking part in live-fire training exercises from 2002 through 2015.  The devices were designed and developed by Aearo Technologies, which was granted an exclusive contract to supply protective earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency in 2002. The 3M Company acquired Aearo in 2008, at which time the Minnesota-based conglomerate became responsible for the military contract.

The CAEV2 design was dual-ended and reversible depending on the level of protection a wearer required. When the green end was inserted into the ear canal, they blocked all sound in the manner of traditional earplugs.

The yellow end was supposed to shield the eardrums from gunfire, explosions, and other damaging concussive noises typically encountered during combat. However, they also allowed the wearer to hear spoken commands and other low-level noises.

Veterans Allege 3M Military Earplugs Failed to Protect Their Hearing

Court documents indicate that at least 229,397 3M military earplugs lawsuits are now pending in the Northern District of Florida, where all federally filed claims of this nature have been consolidated for cordinated pretrial proceedings.

All of the pending cases are being pursued by U.S. military veterans who claim their use of CAEV2 while on active duty from 2003 through 2015 was responsible for causing their service-related hearing loss and tinnitus. Among other things, they assert that the earplugs were too short to fit properly in certain individuals and failed to form the necessary protective seal when in use. While these defects were allegedly known to the defendants as early as 2000, Aero and 3M falsely certified that the earplugs met all standards of the military contract.

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 charges echoed the claims put forth by veterans now suing 3M, the settlement agreement did not require the company to admit liability or compensate those who lost their hearing due to the alleged defects.

The trial set to begin on Monday will involve a consolidated lawsuit brought by three veterans. Two additional bellwether trials are scheduled to get underway on May 17th and June 7th.

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