What's the Problem?
In 2018, 3M settled a whistleblower lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for $9.1 million dollars. As part of the settlement, 3M refused to take responsibility for causing hearing loss to millions of veterans and current service members.
But why were 3M Combat Earplugs used by members of the armed service in the first place? Let’s explore the details surrounding this nine-million-dollar scandal.
What are 3M Combat Arms Earplugs?
3M Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) are non-linear, selective attenuation earplugs. These plugs were designed to provide 2 options for sound reduction, depending on how a soldier wears them.
Wearing the plug with the olive-colored end in the ear — in the “closed” or “blocked” position — blocks all sound like a traditional earplug would, whereas wearing the plug with the yellow end in the ear — in the “open” or “unblocked” position — blocks loud noises such as gunshots and explosions, but still allows the user to hear spoken orders or approaching enemy combatants.
Noise Reduction Rating
A Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) measures the effectiveness of hearing protection, and decibels measure the level of noise.
A normal conversation is approximately 60 decibels. The average gunshot is about 140 decibels.
Noise over 120 decibels can cause instant hearing damage, according to the U.S. CDC.
To calculate the amount of decibel reduction provided by an earplug, take the NRR, subtract 7, and divide by 2. Subtract that number from the total decibel number to determine your new level of noise exposure.
Aearo Technologies, which originally designed and sold the Combat Arms Earplugs until 3M bought the company out in 2008, told the military the olive end of the plugs had an NRR of 22 decibels, and the yellow end had a 0 NRR.
Soldiers' Dilemma with Wearing Traditional Ear Protection
Traditional earplugs are only effective in certain stable environments. However, the use of foam earplugs or tactical earplugs for a military service member can be undesirable since they inhibit situational awareness, which is why most soldiers often go without them in order to effectively communicate with each other.
The dilemma is that soldiers are surrounded by loud noises they need protection from, yet still need an acute sense of hearing to listen for other important situations on the field such as an enemy approaching or taking commands from officers.
What was the Defect in the 3M Earplugs?
An investigation conducted by the Federal Government found that the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs were designed with a flaw that left users at risk of hearing damage. The problem was that the earplugs were too short and could not fit properly into some users’ ears. Additionally, they could loosen without the user realizing it, decreasing their ability to prevent hearing damage.
According to the whistleblower lawsuit, 3M falsified test results indicating that the earplugs met the required standard for hearing protection when, in actuality, they did not. The company also failed to disclose the earplug defect to the U.S. military but continued selling them until 2015. It was later found that 3M knew about the defect as early as 2000.
3M’s negligence has led to thousands of veterans and current service members suing over the defective earplugs.
Related Article: Louisiana 3M Earplug Lawyer
How Much Money Can I Recover Money If I Suffered Hearing Loss from 3M Earplugs?
Previous jury verdicts in hearing loss and tinnitus lawsuits have reported individual settlement compensation amounts ranging from $50,000 to $300,000.
At this point, it is hard to tell whether this will be the settlement value for the 3M lawsuits, but the actual trial value could be in this range or even higher. The global settlement value, which is the resolution of almost all claims at once, would likely be significantly less due to the fact that is rare to get trial value in a mass tort settlement.
Another factor is the sheer volume of these lawsuits, as the 3M litigation has become the largest mass tort in U.S. history. 3M currently has approximately $35 billion in assets and is worth about $100 billion. So let’s say there are 200,000 legitimate claims against the company, and the average settlement payout is $100,000 per person. That works out to a $20 billion settlement.
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