Veterans Pursuing 3M Earplug Lawsuits Urge Court to Dismiss Bankruptcy Filing

Hundreds of thousands of veterans seeking compensation for injuries they say were caused by 3M Company’s defective Combat Arms Earplugs are asking a federal bankruptcy court to dismiss a recent bankruptcy filing by the manufacturer’s Aearo Technologies subsidiary. According to a committee representing more than 200,000 veterans, active-duty servicemembers, civilian contractors, and consumers with complaints against the company, 3M is attempting to use the bankruptcy process to resolve thousands of lawsuits linking the company’s military earplugs to hearing loss, tinnitus, and other debilitating hearing problems. If you or someone you love has suffered hearing damage allegedly caused by 3M’s military earplugs, do not hesitate to speak to a 3M earplug attorney about your legal options. You may have grounds to file a lawsuit against 3M and its Aearo Technologies subsidiary, so contact Consumer Safety Watch to find out how we can help.

3M’s Combat Earplugs Had a Known Design Defect

3M Company faces claims by more than 230,000 veterans who say that they were left with permanent hearing damage after using 3M’s Combat Arms Version 2 earplugs (CAEv2), which were standard issue for military servicemembers between 2003 and 2015, particularly those who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The dual-ended earplugs were designed to be inserted into the ear one way to block all sound or the other way to protect users from high-level noises while still allowing them to hear commands. However, according to allegations raised in the growing 3M earplug litigation, the earplugs were too short to be properly inserted into the ear, which meant the earplugs could loosen imperceptibly and expose users to damaging noises without their knowledge. 

The CAEv2 earplugs were originally manufactured by Aearo Technologies, Inc., which was acquired by 3M Company in 2008. Aearo and then 3M supplied the U.S. military with their dual-ended earplugs under an exclusive defense contract from 2003 until 2012. During that time, thousands of veterans and active-duty servicemembers used the earplugs in combat and training exercises and may now be suffering from permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, and other hearing-related disabilities as a result of the earplugs’ defective design. Furthermore, 3M allegedly knew about the earplugs’ defective design as early as 2000 and failed to disclose the issue to the U.S. military for years. In fact, even after losing the defense contract to another earplug manufacturer in 2012, 3M continued producing its faulty Combat Arms earplugs until 2015. 

Design Flaw Left Users Without Adequate Hearing Protection

Plaintiffs in the 3M earplug litigation allege they could have avoided suffering irreversible hearing damage had 3M informed the military that their earplugs were defective and would not provide users with adequate hearing protection. Instead, the company for years sold earplugs with a known design defect to the military to be used by soldiers in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Following a series of early bellwether trials, in which juries awarded millions of dollars in damages to veterans with hearing loss and tinnitus, 3M announced that its Aearo Technologies subsidiary would be pursuing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, which would effectively force the 3M earplug litigation through the bankruptcy system.

3M Criticized for Controversial Bankruptcy Scheme

3M’s controversial bankruptcy scheme mirrors a similar maneuver Johnson & Johnson recently attempted to use to avoid liability for thousands of talcum powder lawsuits. Just last month, an appeals court rejected J&J’s attempt to force through the bankruptcy system thousands of lawsuits alleging that the company’s talcum powder products cause cancer, ruling that the company improperly placed its LTL Management subsidiary into bankruptcy despite facing no financial distress. In a joint motion to dismiss submitted to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana on February 2, the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors for Tort Claims – Related to Use of Combat Arms Version 2 Earplugs, known as the “CAE Committee,” urged the federal bankruptcy court to take similar action and dismiss 3M’s bankruptcy case as a bad-faith filing.

“Having modeled the Funding Agreement here on J&J and LTL, it is little surprise that [3M Company and Aearo] have relied consistently on the lower court decisions in the LTL bankruptcy as precedent, both in this Court and the Seventh Circuit,” states the motion to dismiss. “The decision in LTL – reversing the lower court rulings on which [3M and Aearo] so heavily rely and remanding with instructions to dismiss LTL’s bankruptcy – knocks the props out from under these cases and requires their dismissal.”

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