3M Military Combat Arms Earplug Lawsuit

Category: 3M Earplugs

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In July 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle a Whistleblower False Claims Act suit accusing 3M of knowingly selling defective earplugs to the U.S. military.

The settlement, filed in South Carolina federal court, was based upon allegations that 3M and its predecessor Aearo Technologies Inc. sold its Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) to the Defense Logistics Agency knowing they were too short to be properly inserted into a user’s ears.

The defective earplugs are dual-ended and can be used either as traditional earplugs or can be flipped into an “open” position to attenuate explosion sounds while still letting through quieter noises. The plugs gradually loosen and failed to properly reduce loud noises.

The U.S. Department of Justice alleged that 3M/Aearo knew about the design problems as early as 2000 when it completed testing of the earplugs.

3M prevented other companies from selling more effective competing products. 3M sued their competitors Moldx-Metrix Battle Plugs for patent infringement and lost. Moldx-Metrix Battle Plugs are now being purchased by the military.

3M’s CAEv2 earplugs were standard equipment for certain branches of the military between 2003 and 2015, and the only available option to military personnel for attenuation earplugs between 2003 and 2012.

Military Hearing Injuries

Approximately 60% of all military personnel report hearing loss after leaving the military. Among post- 9/11 veterans, 414,000 have come home with hearing loss and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. As of 2014, more than 933,000 veterans were receiving disability compensation for hearing loss and 1.3 million were receiving compensation for tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Hearing loss and tinnitus are by far the most prevalent service-connected disability among American Veterans according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Hearing loss and tinnitus can be caused by an acute (single) exposure to an intense impulse of sound (such as an explosion) or by a continuous long-term exposure (such as repeated gunfire or being stationed in engine rooms or aircraft carrier decks).

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