Military veterans who used defective 3M dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs that were issued between 2003 and 2015 and suffered hearing loss or tinnitus may be eligible to recover compensation. Hundreds of veterans are currently pursuing lawsuits against 3M which acquired the original maker of the earplugs, Aearo Technologies, in 2008. At the time of the acquisition, 3M assumed liability for products manufactured by Aearo Technologies, including the defective earplugs sold to the military.
Injuries Caused by Defective Hearing Protection
Military members are exposed to loud noises like gunfire, machine operation, and artillery operations during training and combat that can result in damaged hearing. Many service men and women wearing 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs during these events suffered significant damage to their hearing. Those who used the devices in Iraq and Afghanistan have reported permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, and loss of balance.
Dangerous Earplug Design Flaws
The 3M earplugs were too short for effective insertion into the ear of the user. This created a poor seal that failed to adequately protect the eardrum. Internal testing conducted by 3M uncovered these design flaws. Although the company was aware of the design flaw, they failed to provide warning to the US government regarding the dangers their product posed. Further, they falsified testing data to hide the flaw from government inspectors.
As a result of the company’s failures to warn the government, the defective product was issued to military personnel from 2003 through 2015. The product was used during training and combat operations. Given the widespread usage of the product, it is expected that a significant number of US military personnel may have been exposed to dangerous noise levels that will manifest themselves in long-term hearing damage and loss.
3M Lawsuits and Settlements
In 2018, 3M settled a lawsuit filed by the US government for violations of the False Claims Act. The company agreed to pay the government $9.1 million to resolve allegations that they did not disclose the dangers of the earplugs to the government. However, the settlement did not assign liability to 3M.
Military members and veterans who have suffered hearing damage caused by the use of defective earplugs can pursue punitive damage claims against 3M. Since the product was not recalled, many private shooters and contractors who have purchased the devices on the surplus military goods market may be able to pursue product liability claims against the company.