The 3M Earplug Lawsuits – What You Should Know
Are you a veteran who served in the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015? If so, you may have been exposed to hazardous noise levels, causing hearing loss or tinnitus due to defective 3M Combat Arms earplugs. With hundreds of thousands of veterans affected by this issue, there is a critical need for a greater understanding of the 3M lawsuits in process and what veterans can do if they believe their hearing has been impaired due to these faulty products. In this article, we will discuss what you should know about the 3M earplug lawsuits – including information on eligibility requirements, how to claim damages, and other resources available – so that you can decide if taking legal action is right for your situation.
In 2018, the United States Department of Justice sued 3M Company for selling defective military-grade earplugs. These 3M earplugs were issued to U.S. military personnel between 2003 and 2015. It was later discovered that the earplugs were too short and did not form a sufficient seal in the user’s ear canal, resulting in diminished sound protection and the potential for hearing loss or tinnitus. Let’s break down what happened, who is impacted, and what you should do.
Aearo Technologies and its parent company, 3M, had a contract with the U.S. government to provide dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs (CAEv2) to military members from 2003-2015. During deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, these were considered the standard issue as hearing protection for military service members. Manufacturing and distribution ceased after 2015 without a recall.
These earplugs were designed to offer Veterans a single option for hearing protection, rather than carrying two sets of earplugs. Unfortunately, the fit of these earplugs in the ear canal was too short and, as a result, did not form a sufficient seal to properly block out dangerous noise levels in the user’s ear. As a result, many service members were not adequately protected from loud sounds such as gunfire, explosions, etc. Unfortunately, exposure to these loud sounds without proper hearing protection can result in permanent hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Moldex-Metric Inc. initiated a whistleblower lawsuit against 3M, alleging that they were aware of the faulty product. Upon further investigation of these claims, the 3M Company agreed to a settlement of approximately $9 million with the Department of Justice. However, they denied any liability in the earplug lawsuits. Following the 3M earplug lawsuit settlement with the federal court system, individual military service members who suffered hearing damage began bringing forward separate lawsuits.
Due to many individual lawsuits, a Florida court created an MDL to help organize the large number of claims. The MDL was formed in 2019 and is the largest in US history.
Who is Impacted?
The lawsuit applies to all active and former military personnel who used 3M CAEv2 dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs between 2003-2015 and have since experienced hearing loss or tinnitus. If you were affected, it might be possible for you to receive disability compensation and punitive damages from the 3M Company as part of this settlement agreement.
Veterans Have Specific Hearing Protection Needs
Veterans have a unique need for hearing protection as they are exposed to an environment that is prone to high-intensity noises while, at times, still needing to hear their surroundings to ensure their safety. IEDs, explosions, and gunfire put veterans at risk for noise-induced hearing loss due to constant exposure. Veterans need to equip themselves with proper hearing protection since permanent tinnitus or hearing damage can be a near certainty when the sound levels reach these dangerous thresholds. Hearing protection can significantly reduce the impact of loud noises, allowing veterans to protect their hearing without sacrificing safety.
These earplugs were designed for the unique hearing needs of military service members, as they were designed to be worn in two different ways. Using the olive-colored earplug side in the “closed” position functioned like a traditional earplug, reducing the volume of all sounds. The opposite, yellow-colored end reduced the volume from loud impulse noises (e.g., gunfire) while allowing softer sounds to pass through.
Unfortunately, the earplugs did not work as advertised to protect Veterans’ hearing in those noisy settings and are subject to litigation under the false claims act.
Prevalence of Hearing Loss and Tinnitus in Veterans
Hearing loss is the number one service-related disability, according to the VA. Tinnitus is also a common service-connected condition, with a reported 2.3 million Veterans receiving compensation for tinnitus and 1.3 million with service-connected hearing loss as of 2020. Of note, from 2000 to 2020, the number of Veterans with hearing loss and tinnitus increased from approximately 1.3 out of 1000 to 6.8 out of 1000. It was also partly during that time that Veterans were standardly issued 3M earplugs.
Loud Sounds Damage Hearing in Seconds
Veterans are disproportionately impacted by high-level impulse sounds, such as those produced by gunfire. Every time veterans enter an active combat zone, they risk being exposed to sound levels of over 120 dB SPL. These veterans can suffer immediate and permanent hearing loss and tinnitus without proper hearing protection.
Sometimes, immediate, severe hearing impairment can result from loud sound exposure. For example, a exposure to a gun blast in close range is enough to permanently damage hearing in a matter of seconds. Even with adequate protection, veterans may experience varying degrees of hearing damage. Therefore, veterans must have access to the necessary tools to protect their hearing from enduring further injury in serving the country.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss or tinnitus can manifest in various ways. If you used the 3M earplugs in question and have since experienced one or more of the following, you must seek medical attention as soon as possible for
- Ringing, buzzing, or humming sounds in your ear
- Difficulty hearing conversations, especially in noisy environments
- A feeling of fullness or pressure in your ears
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, speak to a doctor or audiologist as soon as possible. You must document your medical history and any information related to using 3M earplugs during your service to maximize the chances of a successful claim.
What Should You Do?
Are you an active or former service member who used 3M’s dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs between 2003-2015 and have since experienced significant hearing loss or tinnitus? We recommend speaking with an attorney as soon as possible about filing a claim against 3M Company for disability compensation and punitive damages due to your injuries. An attorney can help you understand your rights under this settlement agreement and ensure that your case is handled properly to receive the compensation you deserve.
In recent years, military members and others around the country have filed lawsuits against the 3M Company over their Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs. According to these accusations, 3M withheld information regarding the earplugs’ potential to cause hearing loss and other conditions. Since then, numerous law firms have been representing military service members in filing claims against 3M in possibly hundreds of cases through state and federal court systems, including bankruptcy court. Some plaintiffs even took their case to the United States district court.
As mentioned above, 3M settled these claims with a $9.1 million payment approved by a federal judicial panel, which considers multimillion-dollar class action settlements nationwide. In these cases, veterans accused 3M of failing to act responsibly when it knew — or should have known — that its earplug products could cause irreversible hearing damage due to defective design and manufacture. These lawsuits show how government contractors can sometimes fail to appropriately act on behalf of those they supply with equipment that needs adequate hearing protection – a reminder for us all to take action where we need to protect ourselves from hazardous situations.
Class Action Lawsuit versus MDL Settlement Mediation
Due to the number of lawsuits emerging, some question the possibility of a 3M class action lawsuit. However, due to the differing nature of the individual claims, an MDL is a more effective way to manage this case. For example, while military service members used the same product, each person may have been impacted differently while using the earplugs. MDL plaintiffs then receive a portion of the settlement mediation per their circumstances.
Does one law firm handle all claims?
In an MDL settlement, the lawsuits are presided over by a federal judge overseeing the MDL. However, you’ll want to reach out to a local law firm in your area that handles 3M lawsuits if you’d like to pursue the 3M earplug lawsuit.
Bellwether trials are meant to shape how a possibly large, complex settlement may play out. Results from the initial cases pave the way for the remaining claims and how they will be addressed. In the case of the 3M earplugs, 10 out of 16 of the first test cases found in favor of the plaintiffs. Overall, six of the plaintiffs failed, while ten were successful.
As bellwether trials continue to prove, veterans have seen damages totaling nearly $300 million from these initial ten successful cases awarded in their favor. As mentioned, these trials are meant to build consensus on how juries will rule and chart the best course of action towards a possible settlement that could take care of the quarter-million claims still pending against the company. Despite several verdicts in veterans’ favor, no settlements have yet been reached as we head into trial waves spanning 500 veterans at a time who seek rightful retribution from a ruling in their favor.
As many cases are still pending, the federal district judge for the 3M Combat Arms Earplug product liability multidistrict litigation MDL judge granted the mediation process to begin. Mediating could facilitate a settlement, which would help avoid overwhelming the federal judicial system due to thousands of pending cases.
Government contractor defense
Recent lawsuits against 3M for their allegedly defective combat earplugs have gained considerable attention. The company is defending itself by arguing that it was acting as a government contractor, and thus cannot provide indemnification for any claims of service-related injuries, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit. While this is not an uncommon occurrence in product liability cases involving companies that serve as contractors, it has definitely raised some eyebrows among those who are advocating to hold parties accountable for their actions. Ultimately, the legal battle between injured veterans and the 3M corporation will provide some insight into both sides’ positions on government contracting work and product liability laws.
Bankruptcy Court Decision
Aearo Technologies LLC is seeking relief from the litigation by filing bankruptcy immediately. The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals recently granted a petition from Aearo Technologies LLC, a 3M co-subsidiary, and is reviewing whether the MDL litigation against 3M can be blocked despite Aearo’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Typically, Aearo would first need to challenge the ruling by U.S. bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey Graham of Indianapolis in federal district court.
In an MDL in Pensacola, Florida, Aearo can communicate directly with the 7th Circuit about why it feels combat veterans’ claims should be dismissed by the bankruptcy appellate panel. Judge Graham allowed MDL plaintiffs to continue litigating against 3M. Judge Graham allowed MDL plaintiffs to continue litigating against 3M while 3M looks to get a stay in the earplugs MDL.
Eventually, there may be a global settlement deal to help settle the 3M suit. However, there is a lot of litigation
3M Earplug Lawsuit
The bellwether trials have paved the way for this case’s legitimacy, but litigation is still under way. The impact on health and quality of life is significant for those who were affected by high level noise exposure during their military service. Hearing loss impacts communication, personal safety, and overall well-being.
No one should suffer needlessly due to someone else’s negligence. Unfortunately, these defective earplugs were issued to military members between 2003 – 2015 without the benefit of disclosure of any information about potential risks or dangers associated with their use. If you are an active or former service member who used these earplugs during this period and have since experienced hearing loss or tinnitus as a result, we urge you to contact an attorney immediately so that they can help assess your case and determine what kind of compensation may be available through this settlement agreement from 3M Company. Taking action now could mean significant financial relief for those affected by these faulty products.