Hearing loss is one of the most common and widespread issues affecting the United States military. In 2003, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported that auditory system injuries 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. However, 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 service members deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2015. The CAEv2 earplugs were marketed as being dual-purpose. Therefore, wearing them one way would allow sounds such as speech to be heard. Meanwhile, the opposite end would provide protection from damaging sounds like gunfire.
Despite being the exclusive provider of earplugs for the U.S. military, the whistleblower qui tam lawsuit alleged that 3M knowingly sold CAEv2 earplugs that contained a critical design defect. Allegedly, the earplugs were too short for proper insertion into soldier’s ears. Therefore, causing them to loosen during use which rendered the earplugs useless. 3M and Aearo Technologies were not only accused of knowing about the defect as early as 2000. However, manipulating test results to make the CAEv2 earplugs appear to meet government standards.
Thousands of U.S. service members may have unknowingly suffered permanent hearing loss and auditory damage. This was from the din of gunfire and explosions. As a result, they suffered from 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 us to discuss your potential legal options.
A presiding judge in one of the 3M earplug lawsuits has unsealed documents and depositions. As a result, it seems 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. Furthermore, 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.” In addition, he admitted that he had never personally instructed any service member on the proper way to use the earplugs.
The depositions also undercut 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 indicating that any representative of the military had been informed.
In a deposition record seen by ABC 3 WEAR-TV, an executive from Aero 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 earplug lawsuit cases are expected to begin trial in early 2021.