Hundreds of U.S. veterans are suing Minnesota-based 3M over allegedly defective earplugs issued to soldiers for a little over a decade—despite knowing of the defects. These military earplug lawsuits allege that the company’s failure to disclose earplug design defects caused thousands to suffer from hearing injuries.
Between 2003 and 2015, 3M supplied the U.S. military with dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2. The earplugs had a defective design that made them too short for proper insertion and failed to seal. Because of this, dangerously loud sounds were able to slip through leading to hearing loss and tinnitus.
The lawsuits allege that the company was aware of this design flaw. In fact, according to a Whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2016, the company knew about the defects as early as 2000. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that rather than correcting the problem, the company falsified certification stating that its testing complied with military standards.
Further, 3M failed to disclose these defects to the proper officials. The company was the exclusive manufacturer of earplugs for deployed soldiers who served in the following wars:
- War of Afghanistan
- Iraq War
- War in North-West Pakistan
- War in Somalia
- American-led intervention in Libya
- Operation Ocean Shield in the Indian Ocean
- American- led interventions in Iraq (2014-2017)
- American-led intervention in Syria (2014-present)
What Injuries have Affected Soldiers?
Veterans deployed to a warzone between 2003-2016 suffered hearing-related injuries as a result of 3Ms fraudulent practices. Military earplug lawsuits against 3M allege that the defective earplugs are responsible for the following hearing injuries:
- Tinnitus. The perception of noise or ringing in the ears.
- Hearing loss. The reduction in the ability to hear.
Both of these conditions can limit a person’s quality of life and ability to fulfill job duties. For example, hearing loss may restrict a person’s ability to communicate while those with severe tinnitus can suffer from sleep problems and loss of focus and concentration.
The Department of Justice Investigation
The Department of Justice launched an investigation and found that the dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs supplied by 3M were too short for proper insertion into the ears. The defect led to subtle improper fits that users may not have noticed. This rendered the earplugs ineffective in performing the desired level of noise cancellation.
The DOJ cited enforcement of the False Claims Act to protect U.S. tax dollars from “waste, fraud, and abuse.” In July 2018, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency without disclosing defects.
3M’s Response to the Military Earplug Lawsuits
3M continues to deny responsibility in the injuries suffered by thousands of soldiers. In fact, in mid-January, the company said in a statement, “Safety is a key component of what we do for the United States Military and 3M denies that Combat Arms Earplugs caused injuries.”
The company also disagrees with the original lawsuit’s claims and chose to settle for a variety of reasons, including to avoid legal fees.