What’s Wrong with 3M Earplugs? (Lawsuit)

The 3M Company and Aearo Technologies sold millions of dual-end combat arms earplugs to the United States military between 2003 and 2015. The two companies claimed to the United States military at different times that the earplugs would protect the hearing of service members while still allowing them to hear commands from officers and fellow service members while out on the battlefield.

Unfortunately, the 3M earplugs contained design defects that caused hearing damage in military personnel rather than offer the promised hearing protection. The United States military provided service members in Iraq and Afghanistan with standard-issue 3M earplugs for hearing protection during this timeframe.

The Making of a 3M Earplug Lawsuit

Evidence has surfaced over the last several years that shows Aearo Technologies failed to complete adequate testing of the dual-ended combat arms earplugs before landing a highly profitable contract with the U.S. military in 2003. Although the company completed minimal testing in the early 2000s, it failed to correct an issue with the stem of the earplug. The stem was too short to provide significant hearing protection and did not meet the desired noise reduction rating (NRR).

The problems continued after the 3M Company purchased Aearo Technologies in 2007. The 3M Company failed to assess the effectiveness of the dual-ended combat arms earplugs even though millions of service members in Iraq and Afghanistan used them daily. The United States military did not know of the problems with the disposable foam earplugs until a whistleblower from Moldex, a competitor to 3M, brought it to their attention in a lawsuit filed against the 3M Company in 2016.

Issues with the earplugs began to surface in 2008 when the American Journal of Public Health reported that just over half of all military service members involved in combat had at least a moderately severe hearing loss. Even so, 3M would continue to sell defective combat earplugs to the U.S. military for another seven years.

During the early 2010s, the family-owned manufacturing company Moldex created a traditional earplug for military service members as direct competition for 3M earplugs. The Moldex earplug product cost much less than the 3M earplug product, and the 3M Company did not like the competition. In response to Moldex attempting to sell its version of combat earplugs to the U.S. military, the 3M Company filed a lawsuit against Moldex claiming patent infringement. The jury determined that the earplug products offered by each company differed considerably, causing 3M to lose the lawsuit.

After winning the patent infringement lawsuit against 3M, Moldex filed an antitrust lawsuit of its own. Lawyers representing Moldex discovered internal documents and falsified data from the minimal testing of the dual-ended combat arms earplugs completed by Aearo Technologies. The documents proved that both 3M and Aearo Technologies knew they were selling defective combat earplugs to the United States military but covered up the design defects in favor of earning higher profits.

In July 2018, the 3M Company paid over $9 million dollars to the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve allegations of wrongdoing. To date, none of the original settlement paid to the U.S. Department of Justice has gone to military veterans to compensate them for hearing loss, tinnitus, and other auditory health issues they experienced due to defective combat earplugs. Neither the 3M Company nor Aearo Technologies has admitted to any wrongdoing despite the attorneys representing Moldex presenting clear evidence of it during the 2018 court trial.

How 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs Are Supposed to Work

Aearo Technologies designed the dual-ended earplugs for service members to wear as a single device that offered two separate levels of hearing protection against the loud noises of combat. The formal name of the earplug is non-linear selective attenuation earplug.

One end of what would later become 3M earplugs was olive green and operated as a standard earplug by providing general noise reduction. The yellow end of the earplugs should have blocked loud noises from combat while allowing service members to hear battlefield commands and other softer sounds. That did not always happen, and far too many U.S. military personnel received defective combat earplugs instead. Some former service members later developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on top of hearing loss or tinnitus from the constant exposure to loud noises in the military.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), normal conversation registers at around 60 decibels. Loud noises above 120 decibels can cause immediate hearing loss and damage to the ear canal. Gunshot sounds from the battlefield register at approximately 140 decibels.

Earplugs manufactured by the 3M Company did not receive a favorable noise reduction rating and therefore should not have been issued to soldiers. Aearo Technologies gave misleading information to the U.S. military by claiming that the yellow neon end of the earplugs had a NRR of zero decibels and the olive-green end had an NRR of 22. This information came to light when Moldex sued the 3M company. Although it did not originally produce them, the 3M Company knowingly sold defective combat earplugs to the U.S. military and must face accountability for it.

Hearing Loss and Other Issues Associated with 3M Earplugs

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that approximately 1.2 million veterans receive disability pay for hearing loss and another 1.8 million receive payments for tinnitus. Tinnitus is an auditory condition that causes buzzing or ringing in the ears that other people cannot hear. All military service members face increased risk of hearing loss and tinnitus due to loud noise exposure on the battlefield and while training. The 3M Company finally faced accountability after earning record profits on defective combat earplugs for eight years, but it is not nearly enough.

Do You Qualify to File a Lawsuit Against the 3M Company?

If you were a service member of the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015 who received standard-issue dual-ended combat arms earplugs manufactured by Aearo Technologies or the 3M Company, you could be eligible for financial compensation. You need to demonstrate that you developed hearing loss, tinnitus, or experienced damage to your ear canal in Iraq or Afghanistan due to wearing defective combat earplugs.

Lawsuits against medical device manufacturers differ from the normal claims we process for current and former military service members to receive benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. While disability payments come from the government, the proceeds to pay successful lawsuits for product liability cases comes from the manufacturer and/or its insurance company.

Although the 3M Company and Aearo Technologies deliberately sold defective combat earplugs, the burden rests with you to prove a connection between the faulty product and your hearing issues. That means you need an experienced lawyer on your side.