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3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs May Have Caused Hearing Loss in Thousands of Veterans

Our attorneys are dedicated to helping veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines nationwide recover proper compensation due to defective earplugs manufactured by the 3M Company. If you are suffering from a degenerative hearing condition related to your military service between 2003-2015, please complete our questionnaire to see if you qualify to take part in the action against 3M or call us toll-free at (888) 713-5418 to learn how we may be able to help you.

What Are Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs?

The Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs (CAEv2) were created by Aearo Technologies Inc., a company that was acquired by 3M in 2008. Aearo’s dual-sided earplugs gained the company an exclusive contract bid to supply the military with earplugs—a contract that continued after 3M acquired Aearo.

The purpose of these earplugs was to protect against hearing loss in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. They were standard issue in certain branches of the United States military from 2003 until they were discontinued in 2015. 

The dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs were touted as selective attenuation devices, giving them two different wear options in combat situations:

  • Sound blocking. When the closed (blocked) end—the olive green side— is inserted in the ear, the device is supposed to block all sound like a traditional earplug. 
  • Sound reduction. If the open (unblocked) end—the yellow side—is inserted in the ear, the plug is supposed to significantly reduce the sounds of machinery or explosions while allowing the wearer to hear softer sounds nearby (such as spoken orders or approaching footsteps).

Although the Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs (CAEv2) are now discontinued, 3M was an exclusive supplier of earplugs for the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015, supplying an estimated 2.2 million pairs.

Why Are Defective Earplugs So Hazardous to Military Personnel?

According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, hearing impairments are the most common service-related disability suffered by men and women across all branches of the armed forces. The Hearing Health Foundation reported over 1.16 million cases of disability compensation for hearing loss in 2017, with an additional 1.79 million veterans receiving disability benefits for tinnitus.

Noise exposure is constant in the military, with soldiers suffering damaging noise levels nearly 24 hours a day. Loud noises commonly occur in combat situations, but also during extended training exercises, working near heavy vehicles and tanks, and due to an unexpected explosion of a device. Even the daily increased noise levels from target practice and aircraft flying overhead can increase the risk of hearing loss in soldiers and can have a profound effect on mental and physical health.

Without proper ear protection, service members may suffer a variety of conditions including:

  • Hearing loss. High intensity or impulse noise (such as roadside bombs, small arms, or heavy artillery) can cause damage to the hairs and nerves of the inner ear, resulting in total or partial deafness.
  • Tinnitus. Soldiers impacted by improvised explosives, rocket-propelled grenades, or mortar rounds commonly experience a ringing in the ears after the explosion known as tinnitus. Tinnitus may become less pronounced over time, or it may persist throughout the veteran’s life, affecting his or her ability to do a job effectively.
  • Mental health conditions. Hearing disorders do not just deprive veterans of their ability to hear clearly; they also have an adverse effect on mental health. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, 72 percent of veterans with tinnitus also suffered from anxiety, while 60 percent had symptoms of depression, and as many as 58 percent had both conditions. Veterans with noise-induced hearing injury also had higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as their hearing conditions served as a constant and inescapable reminder of combat.

Why Are People Filing Lawsuits Against 3M?

In 2016, a whistleblower lawsuit was filed against 3M by a competing earplug manufacturer, Moldex Metric Inc. The case was brought under the False Claims Act, a statute that allows liability claims to be brought against persons or companies who have defrauded the federal government. The lawsuit alleged that 3M sold the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 to the United States military despite knowing that the products were defective and could lead to injury.

The lawsuit named 3M responsible for many different negligent actions between 2003 - 2015, including:

  • Failure to disclose defects. Allegations in the lawsuit claimed the earplugs had dangerous design defects, most notably a stem that was too short—preventing the wearer from inserting it deeply in the ear canal.  This defect caused the earplugs to become loose without the user’s knowledge, making the earplug ineffective. While 3M was aware of the potential for loosening during wear, the company did not disclose this design defect to the military.
  • Failure to issue proper warnings and instructions. Although 3M could have easily protected users by issuing instructions on the proper insertion of the earplugs, the lawsuit claimed the company failed to notify soldiers about it the potential for failure or include proper instructions with the product.
  • Fraudulent testing and marketing. The complaint further alleged that both companies were aware that the earplugs were defective, but created fraudulent testing conditions to ensure the earplugs met with U.S. military standards. In order to keep their highly-profitable government contract, 3M falsified testing results and marketing materials for its products instead of bringing the product up to government standards.

The lawsuit came to an end in 2018 when 3M agreed to pay the federal government $9.1 million to resolve claims of negligence. Although 3M willingly settled the lawsuit, the company was not assigned any liability for the defects of its earplugs, and no compensation was given to veterans who suffered injuries as a result. 

After the case concluded, hundreds of veterans filed lawsuits against 3M to recover payment for hearing-loss related injuries. In April 2019, a federal judicial panel agreed to consolidate over 600 such actions into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) that will be heard in a Florida court. Since so many service members may have been impacted by this dangerous product, the number of veterans coming forward to file claims is expected to grow.

Could I Be Owed Compensation After Using Defective Combat Ear Plugs?

It is despicable that 3M chose to protect their profits at the expense of the health and well-being of millions of our soldiers, significantly affecting their quality of life. If you suffer from hearing loss and were deployed to a combat zone between 2003-2015, you may be eligible for financial compensation from 3M. In order to be eligible, you must:

  • Have been diagnosed with hearing loss or tinnitus (in one or both ears)
  • Have served in a branch of the United States Military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard) between 2003-2015
  • Have been issued earplugs during service

Potential damages for veterans in these cases may include:

  • Medical care costs (including hearing aids)
  • Wage losses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

There is an easy way to find out if you or someone you love could have suffered an injury from defective earplugs. Simply complete this short survey to determine if the time and nature of your service could qualify you for compensation in this lawsuit. If you qualify to take part in this lawsuit against 3M, it will not cost you anything up front. Our attorneys fight for injury victims on a contingency fee basis, meaning we only collect legal fees after we have recovered compensation for you.

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Jim M. Zadeh
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Attorney at Law