Why Do the Earplugs Allegedly Cause Harm?

Hearing loss is one of the most common and widespread issues affecting the men and women of the United States military. In 2003, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported that auditory system injuries, including full or partial hearing loss and tinnitus, were the third most common type of service-connected disability. By 2017, tinnitus and hearing loss were the top two service-connected disabilities for all compensation recipients. But while dangerous levels of sound are an unavoidable aspect of combat zones, many military personnel may have been needlessly exposed to hearing loss by using defective combat earplugs distributed by 3M.

In 2018, manufacturer 3M agreed to a $9.1 million settlement to resolve claims that the company knowingly sold dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) to the Department of Defense. The earplugs became standard issue and were supplied to thousands of servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2015. The CAEv2 earplugs were marketed as being dual-purpose; wearing them one way would allow sounds such as speech to be heard, while the opposite end would provide protection from damaging sounds like gunfire.

Despite being the exclusive provider of selective attenuation earplugs for the U.S. military, the whistleblower qui tam lawsuit alleged that 3M (and Aearo Technologies, which was acquired by 3M in 2008) knowingly sold CAEv2 earplugs that contained a critical design defect.

Allegedly, the CAEv2 earplugs were too short for proper insertion into soldier’s ears, causing them to loosen imperceptibly during use which effectively rendered the earplugs useless.

3M and Aearo Technologies were not only accused of knowing about the defect as early as 2000, but also of manipulating test results to make the CAEv2 earplugs appear to meet government standards.

Without the necessary protection of adequate noise reduction, thousands of U.S. servicemembers may have unknowingly suffered permanent hearing loss and auditory damage from the din of gunfire and explosions, resulting in injury, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and medical bills.

If you or a loved one were an actively deployed servicemember between 2003 and 2015 and have been diagnosed with partial or total hearing loss or tinnitus caused during service in the U.S. military, please submit the contact form on this page to discuss your potential legal options.

Internal 3M Documents Build A Case For Negligence 

A presiding judge in one of the 3M lawsuits has unsealed documents and depositions that seem to paint a damning picture of the company’s safety efforts and sales tactics.

In a set of deposition records reviewed by Bloomberg Government, a 3M sales manager was asked if soldiers had a right to know that these earplugs were tested and rated for safety while they were being worn in a different configuration than the one service members were instructed to use. The sales manager said that he “didn’t believe so.” The sales manager also admitted that he had never personally instructed any service member on the proper way to use the earplugs

The depositions also undercutted 3M’s claim that the U.S. military knew about the issue with the earplugs from the start. In the depositions, 3M could not point to any document or call transcript which would indicate that any representative of the military had been informed. 

In a deposition record seen by ABC 3 WEAR-TV, an executive from Aero (the 3M-owned company that manufactures the earplugs) is recorded as answering “yes” to the question: “Is that okay, to sell a product and conceal information where it will have a negative effect on our soldiers?”The first 3M cases are expected to begin trial in early 2021.