What's the Problem?
From 2003 to 2015, 3M manufactured and sold earplugs to the United States military that were supposed to protect soldiers while also allowing them to do their jobs safely and effectively. However, we now know that 3M Combat Arms Earplugs were not effective at preventing hearing loss and that the company was aware as early as 2000 that the earplugs were defective, yet continued to sell them to the military for over a decade.
In August 2022, a court ruled that 3M would have to face over 230,000 lawsuits over the defective earplugs in an MDL in Florida, even though the company's subsidiary, Aearo Technologies, which originally designed the earplugs, has declared bankruptcy.
A Brief History of 3M Military Earplugs
Aearo Technologies first designed and developed the earplugs in 2000, and started selling them as standard issues to the United States military in 2003. Then in 2008, 3M acquired Aearo and took over the sale of the Combat Arms Earplugs until 2015.
A subsequent investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that Aearo had known about problems with the 3M earplugs since they were initially designed. However, the company failed to warn about this defect when contracting with the military. After taking over control of the earplugs in 2015, 3M was also aware of the problem and failed to disclose the information to the Defense Logistics Agency which procures equipment for the Navy, Army, Marines, and Air Force.
Related Article: 3M Earplug Lawsuit Update
How Were the Ear Plugs Designed?
The first version of 3M Combat Arms Earplugs was not dual-ended. The second-generation, dual-ended Version 2 Combat Arms Earplugs allowed either end to be inserted into the ear canal.
With the yellow end of the earbuds inserted into the ear canal, the user could hear normal conversation or commands while still being protected from loud noises, such as gunshots and explosions. With the darker end inserted, 3M maintained that users' hearing would be blocked entirely.
Aearo initially certified in its communications with the military that the earplugs protected up to 22 decibels in the noise reduction ranking (NRR). This is the required level of noise reduction for military earplugs, although other products currently marketed reach levels of up to 33 decibels.
Following a government investigation, it was found that the 3M earplugs only protected 10.9 decibels. This lower level of noise reduction was caused by a design flaw in the defective 3M combat arm earplugs.
Related Article: How Long Will the 3M Earplug Lawsuit Take?
What was the Design Defect?
The government investigation found that the Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs version 2 (caev2) had a design flaw that allowed noise to seep back into the ear canal after insertion. The earplugs were determined to be too short to fit into the ear canal.
After being inserted, the earplugs would gradually loosen inside the ear without the user being aware of it. The noise reduction of 22 decibels was only achieved if the flange was folded back. No instructions were given on usage when the contract was signed between Aearo Technologies and the U.S. Government.
Which Conflicts Were the Defective Earplugs Used in?
In addition to training exercises, U.S. military service members used the 3M earplugs in the following conflicts:
- Afghanistan War
- Iraq War
- War in Somalia
- North-West Pakistan conflicts
- Libya interventions (2011), (2015)
- Operation Ocean Shield
- Iraq interventions ( 2014 to 2017)
- Syrian interventions (2014 to current)
- Civil War in Yemen (2015 onward)
Related Article: How to Qualify for a 3M Lawsuit?
How Product Liability Lawsuits Work in Georgia
In Georgia, Plaintiffs must demonstrate that the use of a product as instructed caused an injury. However, it is not required to prove negligence, as this falls under the doctrine of strict liability. The injured party must instead show that the product was defective.
The defect can be due to the design of the product, its manufacturing process, or improper marketing. In some cases, the defendant will attempt to show that there was no negligence. This is usually the onus of the plaintiff, however, under strict liability, it is assumed that if a defect exists, negligence must have been present.
See all related product liability lawsuits our attorneys have covered.