The whistleblower lawsuit, which was filed by the Department of Justice, claimed that the dual-ended earplugs, originally made by Aearo Technologies, and later acquired by 3M, were "dangerously defective" and contributed to significant hearing loss in service members.
3M sold its earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency, despite knowing defects that decreased hearing protection, according to allegations brought by the federal government under the False Claims Act. The whistleblower lawsuit and now many veterans’ lawsuits allege that Aearo knew of the defect at least as early as 2000 (3M bought the company in 2008).
The Department of Justice in the qui tam lawsuit stated that Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs used by the military between 2003 and 2015 were defective, and that "3M employees were aware of the defects ... several years before 3M/Aearo became the exclusive provider of the earplugs to the military." (The whistleblower lawsuit was filed by Moldex-Metric, Inc., a 3M competitor.)
US Army Veterans 3M Earplug Lawsuits
Despite the Justice Department saying that settlement claims were allegations only, and there was no determination of liability, veterans are filing claims for punitive damages after wearing 3M’s defective earplugs and developing hearing problems. One attorney told the Military Times that these recent claims by veterans are “just the tip of the iceberg of lawsuits that will be filed in order to hold 3M accountable.”
These current lawsuits have accused 3M of fraud, deceit and negligence, and that 3M “willfully and intentionally” concealed the “dangerous and serious safety concerns” of the earplugs.
One lawsuit says that, “Since late 2003, 3M touted its Combat Arms earplugs as capable of allowing users to hear commands from friendly soldiers and approaching enemy combatants, unimpaired, in the same way as if they had nothing in their ears.” The documents allege that 3M employees knew about the earplug defects as early as 2000. (3M hired Aearo employees when it acquired the company in 2008, and 3M has assumed responsibility for Aearo’s products.)
A lawsuit further states that, although testing conducted by 3M found that the earplugs were defective, the company falsified certification stating that the testing complied with military standards. 3M sold its earplugs to the military until it discontinued the product in 2015, but the defective earplugs were never recalled and could still be used by soldiers and/or sold by other vendors.
Combat Arms Earplug Defect
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Hearing loss is the most common service-connected disability among US veterans. In 2014 alone, 933,333 veterans received disability benefits for hearing impairment and 1.3 million received disability compensation for tinnitus – a condition that is difficult to diagnose and there is no cure. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, more than half of combat soldiers return home with moderate or severe hearing loss. It costs taxpayers an estimated $1 billion to treat the problem.