3M Dual Earplugs Lawsuit

Standard Issue Military Earplugs to Blame for Veterans’ Hearing Loss and Tinnitus, Whistleblower Lawsuit Alleges

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The Number of 3M Combat Arms Earplugs Lawsuits Continues to Grow

A seemingly endless stream of lawsuits continue to be filed over hearing loss and tinnitus claims allegedly caused by 3M Combat Arms earplugs, which were standard issue in the military for many years.

At this time, nearly 1,000 Combat Arms earplug lawsuits have been filed in the federal court system against 3M. Attorneys continue to file complaints on the behalf of active and veteran military men and women who have been left with hearing loss and tinnitus after they received Combat Arms earplugs between the years of 2003 and 2015.

A stay on discovery was placed in April, while pretrial proceedings were organized. These proceedings included appointing a board of attorneys, who will serve to establish rules for the exchange of information within and about the earplug cases. On June 20, 2019, the board and Judge Rogers adopted a discovery plan for the first phase of the litigation. Parties were then free to begin general discovery into the common issues that apply to all of the 3M claims.

All of the earplug lawsuit defendants were ordered to finish up the early stages of document exchange by June 27, 2019 and they will be required to finish complete document production by September 30, 2019. All of the parties must file a status report by October 31, 2019. This report should include proposals for all dispositive motions as well as the details of case-specific discovery.

3M Combat Arms Earplug Claims

Each plaintiff in the lawsuits against 3M brings similar allegations based upon design defects that left military members without the required level of hearing protection. This failure allegedly caused both permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. Combat Arms earplugs featured two ends. One side was supposed to block all sound while the other side was meant to block only the loudest sounds, while still allowing for the wearer to hear important commands.

The plaintiffs, through their attorneys, allege that 3M knew the earplugs were defective before they sold them to the military. Rather than issuing a recall or adding any type of warning or instructions to the product’s packaging, the company knowingly continued to sell the defective products to the U.S. military for years. Combat Arms earplugs were issued to nearly every service member for over a decade.

In July of 2018, 3M resolved claims that it defrauded the government with a $9.1 million settlement. During pretrial proceedings, it is expected that Judge Rodgers will rule on any motions that could impact all claims and will schedule early trial dates for representative claims, which will present facts that will be similar to those involved in many or all other claims. If settlements are not reached, then each case will have to be remanded back to their respective District Courts for separate trials.

Moldex-Metric Inc., rival manufacturer of hearing protection products, filed a lawsuit in 2016 against a company known as 3M, the manufacturer of dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs. The lawsuit falls under the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act. This act allows a private party to sue on behalf of the government and share any settlement, if they believe that the defendant submitted false claims with the purpose of obtaining government funds.

3M did not admit to any false claims or other wrongdoing. However, the company agreed to pay over nine million dollars in order to settle the allegations against it in 2018. The original designer of the earplugs, Aearo Technologies, was able to obtain an exclusive military contract for the earplugs back in 2003. Five years later, 3M bought up the company and took on that military contract.

The dual-ended design of 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs permitted soldiers to insert the one side in order to protect against any and all sounds. The other side was supposed to protect against explosions while still allowing the soldiers to hear commands and background noise. The earplugs were standard issue in some military branches between 2003 and 2015 and, as a result, have likely caused tinnitus and significant hearing loss in thousands, if not millions, of soldiers. Hearing issues and tinnitus are already the top causes of military service-related disability.

Aearo Technologies and 3M sold the defective Combat Arms earplugs to the military despite being aware that the design was defective, according to the Moldex lawsuit, exposing millions of military members to the risk of hearing damage or loss. This has led to thousands of servicemen and women, who have suffered hearing damage, filing their own lawsuits against 3M and Aearo Technologies for knowingly defrauding the U.S. military.

Injuries claimed in soldiers’ and veterans’ lawsuits include hearing loss, loss of balance, and constant ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus. Hearing loss impacts a military member’s effectiveness, readiness, and overall quality of life. Every branch of the U.S. military performs routine hearing tests on all service members and also keeps a record of these test results.

According to multiple lawsuits, the stem of the dual-ended earplugs was too short for soldiers to insert the earplug deep enough into the ear canal to provide proper protection. The earplugs’ original manufacturer, Aearo Technologies, knew of this product design defect three years before it obtained the exclusive contract to sell the earplugs to the military, the Moldex lawsuit alleges.

“It is an absolute disgrace that 3M would purposefully provide defective equipment to U.S. service members, knowing that those service members would rely on that defective equipment in combat.”, attorney, Andrew Cobos, was quoted as saying by Military Times. “Their fraud resulted in lifelong injuries to America’s warriors. 3M’s actions cannot and should not be tolerated.”

According to one lawsuit, during the original testing of the Combat Arms earplugs, Aearo Technology staff rolled back the flanges on the non-inserted side of the earplugs in order to prevent them from loosening as a result of the short stem. When 3M bought out the company and took over the military contract, the company did nothing to correct the defect and failed to inform the military of it. It also failed to add any instructions to fold back the flanges to prevent loosening and related hearing damage.

The lawsuit goes on to claim that Aearo Technologies and 3M faked test results in order to meet the noise reduction rating required to sell its earplugs to the U.S. military. The testing was allegedly performed in-house rather than in an independent lab, as is required by federal law. Not only did the defective earplugs not meet the noise reduction rating requirement, one of the dual-ends was found to actually amplify sound, acting as a makeshift hearing aid, the original whistleblower lawsuit alleges.

The company retested the more effective end of the earplugs after folding back the other end’s flange. Only then were they able to achieve the minimum noise reduction rating. Nevertheless, the company reported these altered results to the military, without reporting the alterations necessary to achieve them, and placed the false test results on marketing materials promoting the faulty devices. The company then took full advantage of an exclusive contract with the U.S. military, exposing millions to lifelong hearing loss, hearing damage, and tinnitus.

Combat Arms Earplug Lawsuits Continue to Accumulate Against 3M after Government Settlement

For over a decade, between the years of 2003 and 2015, Dual-Sided Combat Arms Earplugs were sold and manufactured to the US military to be used as standard issue equipment for service members in combat zones. A lawsuit was filed by a competitor and whistleblower called Moldex-Metric, Inc. which the US Department of Justice subsequently joined, and in 2018, the lawsuit was settled for $9.1 million.

Combat Arms Earplug Design Defect

Aearo Technologies, Inc. developed the dual-ended earplug design, which was meant to offer two different options to the wearer. One end was to block out loud noise associated with explosions and gunfire while allowing for quieter noises, while the other was to block all sound. However, the plug was too short to insert fully into the wearer’s ears. If not fully inserted into the ear, the plugs loosen allowing noise to penetrate the eardrum, causing damage.

The military contracted with 3M in 2003 in order to provide its service members hearing protection from damaging noises regularly caused by frequent explosions, gunfire, helicopters, jet engines, and other machinery. Instead, because of the design defect, these veterans have suffered anywhere from partial to total hearing loss and tinnitus.

A Known Design Defect

It is alleged that Aearo Technologies, the designer of Combat Arms Earplugs, knew the plugs were faulty years before 3M took over the company. The 3M Company has already agreed to resolve allegations of defrauding the government for $9.1 million, without admitting wrongdoing. The plaintiffs in that lawsuit showed that the defective earplug design does not meet military safety standards. The use of the devices is now known to cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

The False Claims Act Lawsuit against 3M

Moldex-Metric, Inc. filed its allegations against 3M Company under the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act. This law allows a private party to join a lawsuit on behalf of the federal government. This is only permitted if the plaintiff suspects that the defendant submitted a false claim with the purpose of obtaining government funds. Whistleblower plaintiffs can share the settlement, if the government’s lawsuit is successful. Moldex-Metric, Inc. will receive $1.9 million of the $1.9 million settlement.

The Statute of Limitations for 3M Claims

In order to determine eligibility for financial compensation for hearing damage or tinnitus, all plaintiffs in all future earplug lawsuits against 3M must have served in the United States military between the years of 2003 and 2015. As a result of their standard issue Combat Arms earplugs, they must have experienced any degree of hearing impairment or have developed tinnitus after wearing the earplugs. Make sure to contact an attorney regarding your potential 3M claim as every state has a different statute of limitation and failing to act timely could mean your claim is barred from being pursed forever.

Attorney Robert Fenstersheib

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