In 2003, combat earplug maker Aearo Technologies won a 12-year contract with the U.S. military to supply soldiers with its product, Dual-Ended Combat Arms (CAEv2) earplugs. After the manufacturing giant 3M Company acquired Aearo in 2008, the earplugs were standard issue for soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq for several years until they were discontinued in 2015.
What neither Aearo nor 3M disclosed to the military at the time was that the earplugs were defective. For years, the product likely caused thousands of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss and exposed millions more to the risk. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, hearing loss, tinnitus and other hearing-related problems are the most common medical issues among veterans.
With their dual-ended design, Combat Arms earplugs were created to provide two earplugs in one. Inserted on one side, they block sound like traditional earplugs. On the other, they provide normal hearing while protecting eardrums from gunfire, explosions and other loud incidents.
Besides exposure to physical hazards like debris and fire, exposure to noise is a serious problem for soldiers that warrants serious protection. Properly made equipment is vital to military safety.
However, as allegedly known by 3M/Aearo when it became the exclusive supplier of earplugs to the military, Combat Arms earplugs had design defects that rendered them too short to fit securely in the ears. This meant the earplugs could gradually loosen – thereby letting through damaging sounds – unbeknownst to the wearer.
The indirect costs of 3M’s alleged fraud are enormous. Not only have taxpayers funded the military’s earplug purchases, but they must shoulder the massive expense of treating veterans with hearing damage. The costs to veterans themselves are worst of all.
When Combat Arms earplugs loosen, they are virtually useless, putting the user at serious risk of several health issues. Veterans have reported:
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as many as 52 percent of soldiers return from active service with moderate to severe hearing damage, representing the largest ongoing medical cost to the military. Estimates show the VA spends more than $1 billion per year to treat hearing damage in more than 800,000 veterans.
For some veterans, hearing loss is temporary and treatable by surgery or medication. Others’ hearing is damaged to the point of needing hearing aids and lifelong care. The only way many veterans have been able to afford this care – and in turn, protect active service members from the same fate – is by holding 3M accountable.
3M Combat Arms earplug lawsuits are now being filed in federal courts across the U.S., including Texas, California and Oklahoma. Though the details of each case differ, they make similar allegations that both 3M and its predecessor, Aearo:
The first case to close was filed in 2016. Rival earplug maker Moldex-Metric brought a whistleblower suit against 3M under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, alleging that 3M knowingly sold its “dangerously defective” Combat Arms earplugs without disclosing the defects that hampered their performance.
The complaint further alleged that Aearo employees knew about the defects as early as 2000, several years before signing a contract with the military, when the earplugs failed to pass safety tests. Yet when 3M acquired Aearo in 2008, it hired the Aearo employees who had developed and tested the earplugs. In spite of these employees’ knowledge of the failed safety tests, they continued selling the earplugs to the military for another decade.
In 2018, 3M agreed to pay the U.S. government $9.1 million to settle Moldex’s claim – but did not admit wrongdoing.
Recent 3M Hearing Loss Lawsuits
3M discontinued the Combat Arms earplugs in 2015. However, during the 10 years 3M continued to sell them to the military, the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency fielded millions of dollars’ worth of Combat Arms earplugs to thousands of service members, unaware their hearing was at risk.
Though 3M continues to deny liability to this day, citing “great respect for the brave men and women who protect us” and a “long history of serving the U.S. military,” experts say the company is likely to face thousands more lawsuits. As for the current cases against 3M, plaintiffs have requested that they be consolidated into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) pretrial review at the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis.
Today, hearing loss is the most common service-related disability among U.S. veterans. A 2015 VA study reported that more than 2.6 million veterans were receiving disability benefits for hearing loss and tinnitus. As of 2017, there were over 1.6 million veterans with tinnitus.
Chances are, if you wore Combat Arms earplugs, you are still at risk of being diagnosed with hearing damage. The average time it takes for someone to seek treatment after suffering hearing loss is seven years.
If you believe you may be a victim of hearing loss connected to the use of military earplugs, you may be eligible to file a 3M defective earplug lawsuit to seek damages for product liability, negligence and any pain, suffering or lost wages you’ve incurred as a result of 3M’s deception.
You have nothing to lose by finding out if you have a claim. Contact the injury attorneys at Consumer Safety Law to learn more about how we can help you get the best help possible.
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