What's the Problem?
3M provided its Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (caev2) to the U.S. military for use by soldiers in combat to protect their hearing. The earplugs were intended to block out loud noises, such as gunshots and explosions, while still allowing soldiers to communicate with each other and take commands in the field.
However, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Defense revealed that 3M failed to warn the government or consumers that its Combat Arms Earplugs were defective and could cause hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) to users.
Related Article: 3M Earplug Lawsuit Update
How Many Combat Arms Earplugs Did 3M Sell to the Military?
From 2003 to 2015, 3M sold 15,000 packages of its Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (caev2) to the military each year, which means that millions of veterans may have subsequently developed some degree of hearing impairment as a result. It is estimated that approximately 800,000 Afghanistan and Iraq veterans have been injured by the use of 3M earplugs.
Hearing Loss in Military Veterans
Studies have found that people who served during Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom were four times more likely to develop hearing loss compared to the general population. To make matters worse, because Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (caev2) have not been recalled by 3M and because numerous vendors are not aware of the problem, they may still be supplied to unsuspecting users today.
3M Earplug Whistleblower Lawsuit
In 2016, a whistleblower came forward to inform the public about the design flaw with 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, accusing the manufacturer of knowingly selling a faulty product to the U.S. military.
As a result of the whistleblower's testimony, the Justice Department filed a False Claims Act lawsuit against 3M in South Carolina federal court. The lawsuit alleged that 3M sold its earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency with the knowledge that the products were too short to be properly inserted into a user’s ears.
The complaint further alleged that 3M employees were aware of the design defects as early as 2000 when it completed testing of the earplugs. After investigating the claims, the Justice Department announced that 3M had agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle the lawsuit. 3M Combat Arms Earplugs have since been discontinued.
Following the 3M settlements payout, a rush of lawsuits was filed by veterans and current military service members who wore 3M earplugs and subsequently developed hearing loss and tinnitus.
What is the Status of the 3M Combat Arms Earplug Litigation?
In April 2019, multidistrict litigation, or MDL, was created for the 3M Earplug Lawsuits in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Florida before federal Judge M. Casey Rodgers. As of July 2023, nearly 300,000 lawsuits were pending in the MDL, making the litigation the largest mass tort in American history.
The lawsuits allege, among other things, that 3M knew, from their own testing, that their Combat Arms Earplugs were too short to fit properly into the soldier’s ear canal and could loosen without the user realizing it. The MDL is: 3M Combat Arms Earplug Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2885.
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