Before veterans and active military personnel struggling with debilitating hearing loss, tinnitus and other hearing problems began filing individual lawsuits against 3M Company for its allegedly defective Combat Arms Earplugs, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to the Department of Justice to resolve allegations that the company knowingly sold the defective earplugs to the U.S. military without disclosing defects that prevented the earplugs from providing the proper hearing protection. If you served in any branch of the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015, and you have suffered hearing damage you believe was caused by defective combat earplugs, contact a knowledgeable product liability lawyer today to explore your possible compensation options. You may be able to file a lawsuit against 3M Company in order to recover damages for hearing loss, medical bills, lost wages, loss of future earning capacity, emotional distress and other losses.
In July 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in a press release that 3M Company had agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle claims that the contractor knowingly sold defective earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency. More specifically, the settlement resolved allegations that 3M and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies Inc., knew about problems with its combat earplugs and sold the earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency anyway, without disclosing defects that hindered the earplugs’ hearing protection capabilities. The allegations were brought against 3M in a lawsuit filed under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act, also known as a whistleblower protection law, which allows private parties to sue on behalf of the government if they believe the defendant in question submitted false claims for government funds.
At the center of the 3M earplugs controversy is the company’s dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) device, which was standard issue for the U.S. military from 2003 to 2015. According to reports, the Combat Arms Earplugs, which were designed to protect users from potentially damaging high level noises like weapons fire, explosions and aircraft, were too short for proper insertion in some users’ ears, which meant they could loosen imperceptibly during use and fail to offer the hearing protection that they were meant to for certain individuals. Despite knowing about the earplugs’ defective design for years, the whistleblower lawsuit alleged, 3M failed to disclose the defect and not only continued selling the faulty earplugs to the military, but also fabricated test results to make it appear as though the earplugs complied with strict military standards.
Since late 2003, 3M claimed that the dual-ended design of its Combat Arms Earplugs allowed users to hear approaching enemy combatants and commands from friendly soldiers, while protecting them from potentially damaging noises during combat and training. Yet, internal documents show that 3M/Aearo knew as early as 2000 that the earplugs were defectively designed and posed a risk for users. In 2006, Aearo won an exclusive contract bid to supply the military with its earplugs and when it acquired Aearo in 2008, 3M took over the contract and continued to supply earplugs to thousands of soldiers in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The defective combat earplugs were eventually discontinued in 2015, but were never officially recalled. As a result, thousands of veterans and active duty servicemembers who used the earplugs in combat or during training now seek to hold 3M accountable for their injuries.
3M Company’s $9.1 million settlement agreement with the Department of Justice resolved claims that the company deliberately sold defective earplugs to the U.S. military, but was not an admission of liability. Said acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Department’s Civil Division at the time of the settlement, “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the men and women serving in the United States military from defective products and fraudulent conduct. Government contractors who seek to profit at the expense of our military will face appropriate consequences.” In the aftermath of the whistleblower lawsuit and 3M’s multimillion-dollar settlement, thousands of individual lawsuits have been filed against 3M by current and former members of the U.S. military who used the earplugs between 2003 and 2015 and have since suffered hearing loss, tinnitus and other devastating, life-altering hearing problems.