In the early 2000s, Aearo Technologies developed an earplug for the United States military known as combat arms earplugs version 2 (CAEv2). The company began selling the dual-ended combat arms earplugs to the U.S. military in 2003. This was despite the fact Aearo Technologies completed little testing on CAEv2 and knew about a design defect that could cause hearing damage in military service members.
The 3M Company purchased Aearo Technologies in 2007 and continued to supply the U.S. military with defective earplugs. Military personnel received millions of pairs of the defective product between 2003 and 2015 because the CAEv2 earplugs were standard issue for the U.S. military. That finally changed when a whistleblower came forward in U.S. district court.
The whistleblower was the Moldex Company, a direct competitor of the 3M Company that 3M sued for patent infringement to eliminate any competition as a government contractor. After Moldex countersued the 3M Company and won, 3M paid $9.1 million dollars to the U.S. Department of Justice in July 2018 to resolve allegations.
Despite its payment to the U.S. Department of Justice, the 3M Company did not admit to deliberately concealing test results and knowingly supplying the United States military with defective combat earplugs. Because of 3M’s negligent actions and lack of accountability, former service members who now have permanent hearing loss and other hearing problems have yet to receive financial compensation. Thousands of former military service members have since joined a class action lawsuit or participated in multidistrict litigation (MDL) to seek justice of their own.
How Defective Earplugs Caused Permanent Hearing Loss and Other Damage
The defective design of the dual-ended combat arms earplugs made it difficult for military personnel to fit them correctly into the ear canal. The term dual-ended refers to the design and purpose of the 3M earplugs. One end is yellow and the other a dark olive-green color. CAEv2 earplugs are supposed to block noise at normal levels with the lighter end and the loud noise of combat and training exercises with the darker end.
While the 3M earplugs blocked loud noise, they also made it possible for service members to hear commands and conversations with fellow soldiers. Unfortunately, thousands of earplugs with a design defect would compress when military personnel removed them to insert the opposite end of the dual-ended combat arms earplugs. The act of decompression slightly pushed the earplugs out of the soldier’s ear.
Although the decompression and movement of the CAEv2 earplugs decreased their efficiency, most military service members did not realize decompression had taken place or that they received defective earplugs. This left them exposed to extremely loud noises without adequate hearing protection. The defective earplugs were standard issue in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the years since the whistleblower lawsuit, U.S. military veterans have reported the following problems caused by the defective design of 3M earplugs:
- Hearing loss ranging from mild to severe.
- Tinnitus, a condition that causes continuous ringing or buzzing in the ear not audible to other people.
- Difficulty maintaining proper balance, which made it necessary for some former military personnel to use mobility aids.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), hearing loss and tinnitus are the most common service-related health issues for which veterans and current service members receive disability payments. Hearing loss affects nearly six percent of veterans while close to 10 percent suffer from tinnitus. The Department of Defense indicates that the following symptoms are consistent with hearing problems related to combat:
- Difficulty comprehending speech in an environment with loud noises in the background.
- Inability to hear someone speaking clearly from three feet away.
- Ringing or buzzing in the ears due to tinnitus.
- Ears feeling full after leaving an environment with loud noises such as a concert.
Even if you currently receive disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs for a hearing-related issue, you can join a mass tort action against the 3M Company as part of an ongoing product liability lawsuit.
What to Do if You Suffered Hearing Damage from CAEv2 Earplugs
If you feel that lack of appropriate hearing protection while serving in the U.S. military caused your current hearing problems, the first step is to visit an audiologist for testing and diagnosis. The audiologist should give you a report called an audiogram that you can compare to the results of your hearing test when you first entered the United States military.
Recommended Steps when Contacting a Law Firm for a 3M Claim
- Locate copies of the results of all hearing tests and bring with you to appointment.
- Write down as many details as you can remember such as the dates you used the defective earplugs and when your hearing problems started.
- Write down any questions you want to ask of your product liability lawyer such as the timeline for filing a 3M earplug lawsuit.
The Department of Veterans Affairs should provide you with a copy of your hearing test results prior to entering the United States military if you do not already have a copy.
Types of Compensation You Could Receive from a 3M Earplug Lawsuit
The first qualification for joining a class action lawsuit or multidistrict litigation case against 3M is that you served in the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015. You also must have used the standard issue CAEv2 earplugs at some point in that 12-year period and now suffer from permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, balance issues, ear canal damage, or another audiological issue.
Some of the most common types of compensation received in a product liability lawsuit include:
- Reimbursement of past medical expenses and an allotment of funds for future medical care. Medical expense reimbursement also convers any devices you need due to the injury like hearing aids.
- Lost wages, whether you remain employed by the U.S. government or not. This category of compensation also considers future lost wages and whether you now have reduced earning capacity due to hearing loss or tinnitus.
- Compensation for physical and emotional pain you have experienced due to your hearing problem.
- Punitive damages against the 3M Company for knowingly providing the U.S. military with defective combat arms earplugs. Not all product liability lawsuits include punitive damage. However, it remains an option to pursue when the defendant acted in such a reckless manner that it put others at risk.