The men and women of our military sacrifice daily to protect our freedoms. In doing their job, they depend on military gear and equipment to help protect them from bodily harm.
Unfortunately, recent information has shown that a piece of protective equipment (3M earplugs) military members depended on for years was flawed and has harmed instead of protected thousands of service members.
What are 3M Earplugs?
3M Combat Arms Earplugs are special earplugs designed by 3M, a company based in Minnesota. The earplugs have a dual-ended design meant to both cancel out sounds at a loud decibel while still allowing softer noises, such as talking, to be heard. This design seemed ideal for military service members to use in training and in the field. It would protect the military personnel against loud noises, such as close-range gunfire, while still allowing them to hear necessary verbal commands.
3M company exclusively supplied these earplugs to the US military from 2003 to 2015. Thousands of military service members, especially those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, used the earplugs to protect their hearing in training and combat situations.
Problems with 3M Earplugs
In 2015, the 3M company discontinued the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs. They did this because it came to light that the 3M earplugs had a major defect in their design. For the earplugs to work the best, the dual-ended earplugs were supposed to fit snugly in the wearer’s ear canal. But, the earplugs 3M produced were not long enough to universally fit in all ear canals. This created an improper fit that allowed loud noises to enter the ear canal and cause damage to the ear. The design also allows the earplugs to shift in the canal and fall out of the ear without the knowledge of the wearer.
Military members have reported that the 3M earplugs have caused them permanent injuries such as
- Hearing loss
- Tinnitus ( “ringing” in the ears)
- Loss of balance
3M Earplugs Lawsuit
In 2018, a whistleblower came forward alleging that 3M and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc. knew about the defect design of the earplugs as early as 2000 or 2001. This led the U. S. government to sue the company for violating the False Claims Act. Under this act, any company or person who contracts with a U. S. government agency and knowingly provides a defective product or service can be held liable for damages.
Investigation during the lawsuit revealed that 3M company had knowledge that noise reduction testing in the initial design phase of the earplugs did not meet military standards. They falsified certification tests and supplied the military with the defective earplugs.
Considering this information, 3M agreed to pay a settlement of $9.1 million to the US government. This settlement acts as a reimbursement to the government for the losses incurred by purchasing the faulty earplugs for 12 years. No service members will receive any of these settlement funds.
But, since 3M’s settlement with the government, hundreds of military members and veterans have filed civil lawsuits against the company. Military members and veterans who used earplugs manufactured by 3M and have been diagnosed with hearing loss, tinnitus or loss of balance could receive damages if the company is found liable in civil court.
If you served in the military, used 3M earplugs, and have been diagnosed with any of the aforementioned conditions, you too could take action against the company. Contact us for a free evaluation to see if we can help you. We are a veteran-owned law firm and consider it a duty and honor to help our fellow service members in their time of need.