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3M Defective Earplugs

3M Defective Earplugs

           Hundreds of veterans are suing 3M company over their “Combat Arms Earplugs” (herein “CAEv2 earplugs”). These earplugs were originally manufactured by Aearo Technologies Inc. (“Aearo”), and acquired by 3M company in 2008. After allegations surfaced from a whistle-blower, it was discovered that the CAEv2 earplugs were sold to the U.S. military after improper and methodically unsound test results. When 3M company acquired Aearo, they continued to use materially misleading NRRs (Noise Reduction Ratings) based on Aero’s inaccurate tests. The CAEv2 earplugs were intended to be versatile, so they were designed with a dual-ended version to provide hearing protection while enabling service members to communicate when needed. Specifically, the open or unblocked position (i.e., when the yellow end is inserted in the wearer’s ear) has a “0” NRR, and is intended to block only loud impulse sounds, yet allow the wearer to hear from fellow soldiers or combatants in the field. Conversely, the closed or blocked position (i.e., when the olive, green, or black end is inserted into the wearer’s ear), has a “22” NRR, and designed to block nearly all noises, including voices.

            Before being sold in the United States, the CAEv2 earplugs had to be manufactured in accordance with American National Standards Institution standard S3.19-1974 (“ANSI S3.19-10974”), as required by the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) regulations, under the Noise Control Act (“NCA”). After several tests, Aearo used, and 3M company continued to use, unsubstantiated test results to sell the CAEv2 earplugs to the U.S. government, and failed to properly instruct wearers of standard fitting instructions when inserting the earplugs. The inadequate instructions resulted in wearers not obtaining the full benefit of the equipment, and consequently, mislead soldiers by overstating the level of hearing protection they would receive, putting them at risk of serious hearing impairments.

Thousands of Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Army soldiers dedicated to protecting our home-front trusted 3M company to provide safe, effective hearing protection. Unfortunately, due to 3M’s substandard earplugs, many soldiers suffered from hearing loss and tinnitus. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the CAEv2 earplugs were used by the military between 2003 and 2015. In addition, over two million CAEv2 earplugs were sold to the U.S. military forces. Numerous reports by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) stated that hearing loss is one of the most common and widespread issues affecting the men and women of the U.S. military, and over $1.5 billion are spent annually in veteran disability payments treating hearing loss.

The government and its taxpayers shared the consequences of 3M company’s misleading CAEv2 earplugs. As a result, in 2018, 3M company agreed to a $9.1 million settlement in an attempt to resolve claims that the company knowingly sold defective earplugs to the Department of Defense. According to the Department of Justice, the settlement alleged that 3M company and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, were aware that the earplugs were too short to fit properly in the wearer’s ear canal. Consequently, the earplugs would gradually—and subtly—loosen and allow dangerous sound levels to enter the ear. Eventually, the constant exposure to dangerous sound levels caused significant damage to the wearer’s hearing.

3M company is now facing hundreds of lawsuits across the country, both state and federal, filed by individual veterans who have used CAEv2 earplugs and are experiencing hearing loss and/or tinnitus. The complaints assert that 3M company knowingly designed, made, and sold the defective earplugs and failed to warn of any defects. When a company develops, manufactures, and sells a defective product, they can be held liable for injuries that result from the defective product under a theory of “product liability.” Generally, however, in cases dealing with government contractors, such as 3M company, the “government contractor defense” is asserted. Under the “government contractor defense” doctrine, a manufacturer who contracts with the government is shielded from liability if the contractor meets the government’s specifications that were supplied to them. The doctrine also considers various public policy concerns that a contractor with the government should share sovereign immunity. However, with respect to 3M company, it was discovered that CAEv2 earplug’s test results were manipulated to meet government standards, according to the 2016 whistleblower lawsuit brought under the False Claims Act (a federal law designed to protect private citizens to sue companies that commit fraud against the U.S. government and taxpayers).  Therefore, 3M company may be liable for the personal injuries you suffered as a result of using their defective CAEv2 earplugs.

If you or a loved one believe you have used 3M’s earplugs and have experienced any of the following symptoms, you may be eligible for compensation.

Symptoms of hearing loss may include:

  • Trouble understanding speech, especially against background noise or in the crowd,
  • Muffling of speech and other sounds,
  • Difficulty hearing on the phone,
  • Trouble hearing consonants,
  • Frequently asking others to speak more slowly, clearly and loudly
  • The perception that people are mumbling,
  • Withdrawal from conversations,
  • Avoidance of some social settings,
  • Ringing in the ears, loss of balance.

Dangers related to 3M Combat Arms Earplugs:

  • Total or partial hearing loss
  • Tinnitus
  • Chronic tinnitus (potentially debilitating)

north carolina is home to three out of the four branches of service—Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, Fort Bragg Army Military near Fayetteville, and Camp Lejeune Marine Corps in Jacksonville. The dedicated attorneys at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC understand that the men and women in the navy, marines, and army are often exposed to extreme levels of noise pollution—whether mortar explosions or intermittent gunfire—and we will work zealously to recover any potential medical cost, temporary and permanent damages, time out of work, and other costs related to your hearing loss or tinnitus.

Many veterans have photographs from their active duty military service. We recommend that you look through the photographs of you or a fellow service member and see if you recognize the black (or olive/green) and yellow 3M CAEv2 earplugs. This can show that the military distributed the faulty earplugs to your unit.

Feel free to call and inquire about any of the issues that you, or a past military member you know, faced while wearing these earplugs. If you meet the above stated requirements, contact Rosensteel Fleichman, PLLC and we will review your case and discuss the potential to pursue a personal injury claim. You will speak with a personal injury Attorney who can discuss your rights and options.  There is no fee for an initial consultation. 

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