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3M Earplugs Lawsuit

About 22 million people are exposed to high levels of noise at work every year. Ear protection such as earplugs is supposed to help mitigate the effects of being in a noisy environment and protect people from hearing loss and other injuries.

Thousands of industrial workers and combat veterans who used 3M dual-ended earplugs may have suffered ear damage or hearing loss due to a defective design that may have failed to provide adequate protection.

3M was aware of the defects in their earplugs but continued to sell them anyway. They continued to sell their earplugs to both civilian industrial workers and to the government for military use despite knowing that there was a defect that made the earplugs much less effective than the wearers expected them to be, resulting in hearing loss, tinnitus, and other negative effects to their health.

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  • What Is OSHA?
    • What Are OSHA’s Workplace Regulations for Noisy Environments?
  • Who Is 3M?
  • What 3M Earplugs Were Defective?
    • How Do the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs Work?
    • How Do the 3M E-A-R Arc Earplugs Work?
    • How Were the Earplugs Defective?
  • How Does Hearing Work?
  • What Is Noise?
    • How Loud Is Too Loud a Noise?
    • What Factors Make a Sound a Hearing Loss Risk?
    • What Are the Decibel Levels of Common Noises?
  • How Does Hearing Loss Occur?
    • What Can Cause Hearing Loss?
    • How Can You Tell a Noise Is Too Loud?
    • What Is the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App?
    • What Are the Symptoms of Ear Damage?
    • How Common Is Hearing Loss?
    • How Does Hearing Loss Affect Someone’s Life?
    • What Precautions Can People Take to Reduce the Risk of Ear Damage and Hearing Loss?
  • What Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
    • What Else Can Cause Hearing Loss?
    • What Are the Most Common Causes of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
    • How Many People Are Affected by Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
    • How Common Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in the Military?
    • What Are the Symptoms of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
    • What Are the Side-Effects of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
    • How Can Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Be Avoided?
  • What Is Tinnitus?
    • What Can Cause Tinnitus?
    • What Are the Symptoms of Tinnitus?
    • What Kinds of Tinnitus Are There?
    • What Are the Risk Factors Associated with Tinnitus?
    • What Complications Can Tinnitus Cause?
    • How Can Tinnitus Be Prevented?
  • How Did 3M’s Dual-Ended Earplugs Harm Users?
  • How Was 3M Negligent with its Dual-Ended Earplugs?
  • What Is the Whistleblower Settlement?
    • What Is the False Claims Act?
  • What Is the Current Litigation Against 3M?
  • Sources

Seeger Weiss founding partner, Chris Seeger, has been appointed as Co-Lead Counsel on a team that will represent hundreds of U.S. military members in the growing 3M Military Earplug lawsuits.

3M Earplugs

3M dual-ended earplugs were intended to provide ear protection in some of the loudest noise conditions. They were first designed for combat but have been used and reproduced for use in many other industries. The dual-ended design may have been defective and resulted in thousands of cases of ear damage or hearing loss for workers in all types of settings.

3M may be facing hundreds of lawsuits filed by industrial workers who suffered ear damage or hearing loss while using 3M E-A-R Arc dual-ended earplugs. These lawsuits will be in addition to the hundreds of cases that have already been filed by military personnel and veterans for the 3M Combat Arms v2 Earplugs.

What is OSHA?

OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is an agency that is a part of the United States government’s Department of Labor. Established in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, the agency’s purpose was to ensure that all women and men working in the United States work under health and safe working conditions. OSHA sets workplace safety standards and has the authority to enforce them through regulations and whistleblower statutes.

What Are OSHA’s Workplace Regulations for Noisy Environments?

One of OSHA’s regulations is in regards to noise levels that are allowable in the workplace. OSHA’s limit is 85 decibels. OSHA describes this as an environment noisy enough that a person needs to raise their voice in order to be heard by someone else only an arms-length away.

Some workplaces, such as in industrial settings or in military combat zones, are extremely loud and the noise level cannot be lowered within the environment. Those levels of noise can cause hearing loss or other hearing problems over time. Fortunately, the hearing loss is preventable. That’s where ear protection such as 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs or 3M’s E-A-R Arc earplugs come in.

Who Is 3M?

3M is a Minnesota-based company that produces products for the following fields:

  • Worker safety
  • Industry
  • Health care
  • Consumer goods

The company has over 60,000 different products for sale under several different brands. The profits from the sale of these products have resulted in 3M being included in the Forbes Fortune 500 list at number 103 in 2020.

The earplugs were originally manufactured by Aearo Technologies, which was purchased by 3M in 2008.

What 3M Earplugs Were Defective?

3M manufactured two different types of earplugs that were found to have the same design flaw that resulted in hearing loss to some who used them. These two earplug brands are:

  • 3M E-A-R Arc Earplugs
  • 3M Combat Arms version 2 (CAEv2) Earplugs

The Combat Arms earplugs were designed specifically for military use and 3M sold them as meeting the military’s requirements for ear protection for soldiers. The E-A-R Arc earplugs shared a very similar design, differing primarily in color, and were meant for civilian use.

How Do the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs Work?

The 3M Combat Arms Earplug is a yellow and green, double-ended device that was reportedly designed to satisfy multiple hearing protection needs for in-combat military personnel. The earplugs are made up of two Christmas-tree-shaped ends that are joined together by a stem. The green end allows for the earplug to be inserted one way for complete ear protection in “Closed/Constant Protection Mode”, and the yellow end allows the opposite way to allow the user to hear speech in “Weapons-Fire Mode”.

The yellow end or Weapons-Fire mode was designed to force sound through a filter to restrict high-level, impulse, or sudden noise but allow low-level noise to be heard. The greater the sound intensity, the greater restriction should be.

How Do the 3M E-A-R Arc Earplugs Work?

3M’s E.A.R Arc Earplugs are identical in design to the military version, the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) which was designed and introduced in 2003 by Aearo Technologies and later acquired by 3M.

The 3M E-A-R Arc Plug Earplug is a red and yellow, double-ended device which is identical in design to the yellow and army green “Combat Arms” military version, The double-ended design was intended to provide hearing protection in multiple environments. One end allows for the earplug to be inserted for complete ear protection or “Closed/Constant Protection Mode”, and the other side end allows the user to hear speech but still protect against sudden, percussive noises.”

How Were the Earplugs Defective?

The cone-shaped device may have been too short for some ear canals. The short stem may prevent the earplugs from being inserted deep enough into the ear canal. Over time, they may slowly work themselves loose, leaving the user unaware that the device has become unseated. Once it is no longer securely in the ear canal, ear protection may be inadequate.

Thousands of active-duty military personnel and combat veterans may have suffered hearing damage while using the Combat Arms earplugs and an equal number of industrial or civilian workers may have suffered hearing loss using 3M EAR Arc Earplugs. Many of these workers may have been forced to retire or suffered a disability due to hearing damage or loss.

How Does Hearing Work?

The human sense of hearing involves the ears converting sound waves to information that the brain can understand and interpret as the sounds that you hear every day. Sound waves enter into the ear canal and then cause the bones in the middle of the ear and the eardrum to vibrate.

These vibrations are then converted into electric signals by the tiny hairs on the cochlea and then sent to the auditory nerve. Different sound frequencies cause vibrations in different locations within the ear, which is what we interpret as different pitches. When the auditory nerve sends the electrical signals on to the brain, the brain then interprets them as what we perceive as sounds.

What Is Noise?

There’s a difference between sound and noise. Sound refers to anything that we hear that comes from the vibrations caused by sound waves. Noise, on the other hand, is unwanted. The term noise pollution, for example, refers to unwanted, annoying, and even harmful noise that “pollutes” an otherwise pleasant area. Where sound is neutral, noise is what can cause harm and damage to someone’s hearing.

How Loud Is Too Loud a Noise?

Human ears are only designed to handle up to a certain decibel level before it becomes a risk to the ears’ ability to hear. The bones of the inner ear are delicate and prolonged exposure to too-loud noise can cause permanent damage to them. Noises that are too loud don’t always have to be constant, either.

Some loud noises that can also damage hearing are called impulse sounds. These are sharp, sudden noises like gunshots or fireworks.

What Factors Make a Sound a Hearing Loss Risk?

There are three major factors that go into whether or not a noise is a risk to someone’s hearing. These factors are:

  • Proximity
  • Duration
  • Volume

How long a loud noise lasts, its actual decibel level, and how close a person is to the loud noise all contribute to the risk of hearing loss.

What Are the Decibel Levels of Common Noises?

Comparing decibel levels to noises that we may already be familiar with can help people understand where the 85-decibel level is. Some common noises and their decibel levels are:

  • Whisper – 30 dB
  • Normal conversation – 60 dB
  • Ringing telephone – 80 dB
  • Limit – 85 dB
  • Lawnmower – 90 dB
  • Hairdryer – 90 dB
  • Tractor – 96 dB
  • Hand drill – 98 dB
  • Spray painter – 105 dB
  • Bulldozer – 105 dB
  • Circular saw – 110 dB
  • Chain saw -110 dB
  • Hammer drill – 114 dB
  • Pneumatic precision drill – 119 dB
  • Ambulance siren -120 dB
  • Jet engine – 140 dB
  • 12-gauge shotgun – 165 dB

How Does Hearing Loss Occur?

Hearing loss is, although preventable, one of the most common workplace injuries. OSHA estimates that up to 22 million people are exposed to dangerously high levels of noise every year.

Louder noises have larger sound waves. The larger the sound wave, the more the bones and hairs inside the ear vibrate. Vibrating too much can cause damage to the hairs, which will, over time, fail to vibrate when they should, causing hearing loss. There is currently no cure for damaged ear canal hairs once hearing loss has occurred.

What Can Cause Hearing Loss?

A single exposure to a loud noise may not be enough to cause hearing loss. Constant exposure to that same loud noise could, however, over time, cause damage to the hairs inside the ears. Proximity to a loud noise could also exacerbate the risks of ear damage. Military personnel in combat zones are at risk for ear damage because they are in close proximity for a period of time to gunfire, which has a high decibel level. People who attend a lot of loud concerts or listen to music loudly on headphones could also be at risk for hearing loss over time.

How Can You Tell a Noise Is Too Loud?

OSHA’s regulations for workplace noise levels limit the decibel level to 85. Any noises that are above that decibel level are considered dangerously loud. There are several signs people can look for to determine whether the decibel level in their workplace is too loud:

  • Shouting is required to be heard only an arms-length away
  • Workers experience temporary hearing loss at the end of their work shift
  • Experiencing a humming or ringing in the ears during the workday
  • Decibel reading higher than 85 on the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App

These signs don’t apply only to the workplace. If you’re in any environment, such as a concert, in which you have to shout in order to be heard by someone only a few feet from you, it’s too loud. If you experience ringing in your ears after exposure to a sound or have difficulty hearing even after the noise level has been reduced, then the noise you were exposed to was dangerously high.

What Is the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App?

There is a free mobile app available for iOS devices that members of the public can download. This app makes it easier for people to determine whether the environment in which they work is too loud. The app was designed specifically to enable members of the public to be able to make their own educated decisions about the noise levels where they work. The idea was to prevent avoidable hearing loss through information and education.

What Are the Symptoms of Ear Damage?

Ear damage doesn’t always mean complete hearing loss. Any damage to the delicate bones and hairs inside the ears can result in partial hearing loss or any of the following symptoms:

  • Constant tinnitus – ear ringing, whining, or buzzing sound
  • Intermittent tinnitus
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of equilibrium
  • Partial or complete hearing loss in one or both ears
  • Inability to sleep
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Neck aches
  • Ear pain

How Common Is Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is one of the most common types of workplace injury and is responsible for more than 20,000 workplace injury cases every year in the U.S., many of which may include permanent injury. An estimated 25% of all hearing loss may be a result of noise exposure at work and permanent hearing loss can also be responsible for an increased risk of additional injury.

How Does Hearing Loss Affect Someone’s Life?

In many cases, people who suffer from hearing loss will become more and more isolated and may suffer from depression. In addition, the loss of some hearing makes many people more likely to suffer future injury as they are no longer able to respond appropriately to emergency sounds or warnings.

What Precautions Can People Take to Reduce the Risk of Ear Damage and Hearing Loss?

Some hearing loss is age-related and therefore may be unavoidable. However, hearing loss due to noise is avoidable and there are some precautions people can take to lower their risk. This primarily involves limiting your exposure to loud noises. Any time you have to shout over the noise to be heard, either lower the volume of the noise source. If that’s not possible, remove yourself from the location of the noise.

If it’s not possible to lower the volume or leave the area, ear protection like earplugs or protective earmuffs can help to lower the decibels that actually make it into your ears, even though they can’t lower the actual volume of the noise. There are earplugs and earmuffs specially made to reduce noise. Earmuffs meant for winter weather may not be enough protection against noise because they’re designed to keep out the cold.

Additionally, you can:

  • Stop smoking or avoid starting smoking
  • Properly remove earwax
  • Check any medications for a risk of hearing loss

If you’re having difficulty hearing or are experiencing a ringing in your ears, it’s a good idea to get your hearing checked with your doctor.

What Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Noise-induced hearing loss, or NISH, is hearing loss specifically caused by noise rather than age or another cause. NISH is caused by permanent damage to the hair cells within the ears that vibrate when sound waves enter the ears. Constant exposure to loud noises and proximity to sudden, sharp noises can both cause damage to these hairs, resulting in NISH.

What Else Can Cause Hearing Loss?

In addition to noise, there are other things that can cause hearing loss. These include:

  • Age
  • Medications
  • Ear infections
  • Illness
    • Measles
    • Mumps
    • Syphilis
    • Meningitis
  • Perforation of the eardrum
  • Meniere’s Disease

What Are the Most Common Causes of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

The most common cause of noise-induced hearing loss is exposure to loud noises at work. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 Americans is exposed to high levels of noise in the workplace. That’s 25% of workers who have been exposed during their working careers to potentially damaging noise levels. 14% of workers (about 22 million people) were exposed to damaging noise levels in the workplace in 2018.

34% of workers exposed to dangerous noise levels reported that they were not wearing ear protection.

The industries that most commonly have high levels of noise include:

  • Military
  • Oil and gas
  • Construction
  • Carpentry
  • Agriculture

These workplaces involve loud noises that are either sharp and sudden (like gunfire) or that are constant and at a high volume (like machinery noise). People working in these industries may be at higher risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss of proper precautions aren’t taken. Wearing proper ear protection can help reduce the risk.

These workplaces involve loud noises that are either sharp and sudden (like gunfire) or that are constant and at a high volume (like machinery noise). People working in these industries may be at higher risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss of proper precautions aren’t taken. Wearing proper ear protection can help reduce the risk.

Although workplace noise levels are the most common cause of noise-induced hearing loss, it’s not the only possible risk for NISH. Many people have hobbies that put them at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. These hobbies can include:

  • Shooting at a firing range
  • Hunting
  • Attending concerts
  • Listening to loud music
  • Performing music loudly
  • Operating lawn equipment
  • Operating home improvement equipment
  • Riding lawn mowers
  • Riding snowmobiles

How Many People Are Affected by Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

According to the CDC, about 12% of all workers in the workforce have some amount of hearing loss. 8% of workers experience tinnitus as a result of exposure to loud noise. Of the number of workers that were exposed to loud noises in the workplace and who have had their hearing tested, 16% of them experienced noise-induced hearing loss that affected their daily lives. 13% of those workers had hearing loss in both ears.

How Common Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in the Military?

The Veterans Administration reports that hearing damage is the single most common service-related disability. In 2017, the VA had 159,800 new claims for tinnitus and 81,529 new claims for hearing loss. This is in addition to the existing 1,157,585 cases of hearing loss and 1,786,980 existing cases of tinnitus.

What Are the Symptoms of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

The symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss include:

  • Pain in the ears
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Difficulty understanding what people are saying
  • People sound like they are mumbling
  • Other people tell you that you are shouting or speaking loudly

What Are the Side-Effects of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss and tinnitus aren’t the only problems that can occur with noise-induced hearing loss. Some other possible effects of NISH include:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Isolation
  • Depression

How Can Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Be Avoided?

Some noise, especially in the workplace, may not be avoidable. However, you can mitigate the risks by wearing appropriate ear protection, including earplugs or earmuffs that fit securely over the ears and completely cover them. If possible, change out the parts in machinery to ensure that they’re working smoothly and not causing more noise than they should due to friction. Lubrication can also help machines run more quietly.

When it comes to hobbies, make sure that your music is turned down. In addition, once you’re aware of the risk of noise, you can try to be more mindful about your proximity to loud noises and also to how long you’re exposed to the noise. Even if you continue to participate in a hobby that involves exposure to loud noises, you can limit how long you’re exposed to the noise.

What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is ringing in the ears. Tinnitus isn’t actually a medical condition by itself but is a symptom of something else. Most of the time it’s annoying but isn’t always a sign of something serious. However, it can be a symptom of hearing loss.

Many people who have been exposed to high levels of noise experience tinnitus.

What Can Cause Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a symptom of hearing loss, but that’s not the only possible cause of tinnitus. The most common cause of tinnitus is damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, which can occur as a result of exposure to loud noises.

Potential common causes of tinnitus include:

  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Hearing loss due to age
  • Changes to the ear bones
  • An earwax blockage

There are some additional factors that can also cause tinnitus, but they are less common than the causes listed above. These rarer causes of tinnitus include:

  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
  • Meniere’s Disease
  • Head injuries
  • Neck injuries
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Inner ear muscle spasms
  • Dysfunction of the eustachian tube

Tinnitus can also sometimes be caused by blood vessel disorders, including:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Tumors in the head or neck
  • High blood pressure
  • Capillary malformations
  • Turbulent blood flow

Certain medications can also result in tinnitus:

  • Aspirin
  • Antibiotics
    • Erythromycin
    • Neomycin
    • Polymyxin B
    • Vancomycin
      • Vancocin HCL
      • Firvanq
  • Some antidepressants
  • Quinine
  • Cancer medications
    • Cisplatin
    • Methotrexate (Trexall)
  • Diuretics (water pills)
    • Furosemide (Lasix)
    • Ethacrynic acid (Edecrin)
    • Bumetanide (Bumex)

What Are the Symptoms of Tinnitus?

Tinnitus isn’t just a ringing in the ears. It can sound like the following:

  • Humming
  • Clicking
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Roaring
  • Ringing

The primary factor that qualifies a condition as tinnitus is that it’s a phantom sound in the ears that occurs even when there is no external sound wave vibrating the bones and hair cells within the ear. Tinnitus can vary in volume and pitch, ranging from a low roar all the way up to a high squealing noise. It can also be heard in either just one ear or both ears. It can also be constant or it can come and go.

If your tinnitus is bad enough that you’re seeing a doctor for it, it’s important to tell your doctor exactly what you are hearing. The type of phantom sound you hear can vary depending on the cause of the tinnitus. If the tinnitus is related to hearing loss, it’s typically a high-pitched ringing sound. Exposure to loud noises can cause temporary tinnitus in the form of ringing or buzzing. However, if noise-induced hearing loss is the cause of the tinnitus, it may be permanent.

What Kinds of Tinnitus Are There?

There are two different types of tinnitus. The first type is subjective tinnitus. This type of tinnitus is the most common type and is tinnitus only audible to the person who has it. This type of tinnitus is associated with a problem in the ear, auditory pathways, or auditory nerves. If any part of the ear and how it interacts with the brain is damaged, subjective tinnitus can be a side-effect.

The second type of tinnitus is objective tinnitus. This type of tinnitus is much rarer than subjective tinnitus and can be audible to a doctor during an ear examination. Objective tinnitus can be caused by a problem with the blood vessels in the ear, muscle contractions in the ear, or a bone condition in the middle ear.

What Are the Risk Factors Associated with Tinnitus?

There are certain factors that increase a person’s risk of developing tinnitus. These risk factors include:

  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Gender

Men are more likely to experience tinnitus than women are.

What Complications Can Tinnitus Cause?

In addition to being an annoying ringing in the ears and a potential sign of hearing loss, tinnitus can cause other complications. These include:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems

How Can Tinnitus Be Prevented?

Because tinnitus is not a condition on its own but is instead a symptom of something else, treating the underlying cause can help prevent tinnitus from occurring. If the tinnitus is related to hearing loss, then taking steps to avoid further damage to your hearing can help address tinnitus.

Some steps you can take to help prevent tinnitus include:

  • Protecting your hearing
    • Earplugs
    • Earmuffs that cover your ears entirely
  • Turning down the volume when listening to music
  • Taking care of cardiovascular health
    • Exercise
    • Eating healthily

How Did 3M’s Dual-Ended Earplugs Harm Users?

Because of the design flaw that allowed the earplugs to loosen with the wearer being aware of it, many people who used them, both military veterans and workers who wore them to protect against workplace noise began to experience hearing loss and tinnitus. This is despite users following the instructions correctly.

Experiencing hearing loss and tinnitus can negatively impact a person’s quality of life as well as affect their ability to do a job. On top of that, people who experience either or both of these conditions are susceptible to:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems

In addition to thousands of active duty military personnel who may have suffered hearing loss while using 3M combat earplugs, many workers in other settings suffered disability to hearing damage or loss as well. Workers who may have been forced to retire or suffered from medical and personal issues are considering filing lawsuits against 3M for their losses.

3M is facing hundreds of hearing loss lawsuits filed by veterans and may soon be facing hundreds or even thousands of additional lawsuits filed by workers in all types of industry who used either the Combat Arms or E.A.R ARC earplugs while at work.

How Was 3M Negligent with its Dual-Ended Earplugs?

In April of 2020, a judge ordered a series of documents unsealed for use in the upcoming lawsuits against 3M for their defective Combat Arms earplugs. These unsealed documents revealed that 3M had knowledge of the defects in the earplugs and include emails and depositions from 3M managers and executives.

In one deposition, a sales manager for 3M stated that soldiers didn’t need to know that the earplugs were much less effective than they were led to believe. In another deposition, an executive for Aearo Technologies admitted to believing that it was all right to sell the earplugs and to conceal their defects, despite the negative effects they could have one the soldiers that used them and relied on them to protect their ears in combat and near live gunfire.

What Is the Whistleblower Settlement?

The military version of 3M double-ended earplugs, the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs were the subject of a federal whistleblower lawsuit which was settled in 2016. The whistleblower, another earplug manufacturer, Moldex-Metric filed the lawsuit claiming that 3M’s claim of superiority and patent protection was unfairly preventing them from obtaining a supply contract.

The lawsuit disclosed that 3M and predecessor Aearo Technologies may have falsified testing information, leading the military to believe that the earplugs provided more protection than they did in actual use. The whistleblower lawsuit was settled with a $9.1 million fine, some of which was paid to Moldex-Metric.

3M did not admit any wrongdoing but no longer provides the Combat Arms CAEV2 to the military, though the earplugs have not been recalled. This means that some of them may still be in use and therefore a potential risk to those using them.

However, a representative of the Department of Justice was pleased with the result of the settlement, saying that any government contractor that sought to make a profit at the expense of the military would face consequences like 3M did.

What Is the False Claims Act?

The False Claims Act is legislation that is designed to prosecute any who defraud the federal government. It’s generally meant to apply to government contractors, but can be applied to private businesses and individuals as well. Under the False Claims Act, there’s a whistleblower provision that allows a private entity to sue on behalf of the United States government. In fact, most suits on behalf of the government under the False Claims Act are brought by whistleblowers.

In the case of the lawsuit and subsequent settlement against 3M, 3M’s competitor, Moldex-Metric, was the whistleblower that brought the lawsuit.

What Is the Current Litigation Against 3M?

Veterans or personnel who were injured, suffered hearing loss or damage due to 3M’s CAEv2 earplugs are filing product liability or injury lawsuits to seek compensation and help to deal with medical costs, treatment costs, pain and suffering and other damages. One of the first of these lawsuits was filed in January of 2019 in Waco, Texas in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. Other lawsuits are expected.

Military veterans or loved ones of those who served in the military and used 3M Combat Arms Earplugs between 2003 and 2015 may have a legal claim for hearing damage or loss.

These lawsuits seek compensation from 3M for the following:

  • Past medical costs including prescriptions, specialists, testing and therapy
  • Hearing aid cost
  • Expected future medical costs
  • Quality of life loss
  • Loss of income
  • Loss of future income
  • Pain and suffering

There are currently hundreds of lawsuits against 3M brought about by military veterans suffering from hearing loss and tinnitus because of 3M’s defective Combat Arms earplugs. Some of these have been combined into class-action lawsuits against 3M. Seeger Weiss’ founding partner Chris Seeger has been selected as Co-Lead Counsel on the team of attorneys that will represent these veterans and military members in their quest for justice and compensation.

Veterans Suffer Tinnitus & Hearing Loss

Thousands of veterans who used 3M Combat Arms Earplugs and have suffered hearing loss and tinnitus may be eligible to file lawsuits.

A U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) whistleblower lawsuit filed against 3M was settled in June 2018 with an agreement for the company to pay $9.1 million. 

3M and predecessor company Aearo Technologies have been accused of:

  • Manufacturing a product with a defective design which resulted in hearing damage and loss
  • Possibly manipulating test results so that it appeared the CAEv2 met military specifications
  • Failing to disclose design defects for more than 10 years, preventing military personnel from seeking more effective devices for hearing protection

3M Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 Design Flaws

The Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) was designed and introduced in 2003 by Aearo Technologies. Aearo Tech was acquired by 3M in 2008, who continued to market the CAEv2 earplugs until 2013.

The 3M Combat Arms Earplug is a yellow and green, double-ended device which was reportedly designed to satisfy multiple hearing protection needs for in-combat military personnel. The green end allows for the earplug to be inserted one way for complete ear protection in “Closed/Constant Protection Mode”, and the yellow end allows opposite way to allow the user to hear speech in “Weapons-Fire Mode”.

The yellow end or Weapons-Fire mode was designed to force sound through a filter to restrict high-level, impulse or sudden noise but allow low-level noise to be heard. The greater the sound intensity, the greater restriction should be.

Unfortunately, the cone-shaped device may have been too short for some ear canals.  The short stem may prevent the earplugs from being inserted deep enough into the ear canal. Over time, they may slowly work themselves loose, leaving the user unaware that the device has become unseated. Once it is no longer securely in the ear canal, ear protection may be inadequate.

Thousands of active duty military personnel may have suffered hearing loss while using 3M combat earplugs. Many of these veterans were forced to retire or have suffered disability to hearing damage or loss.

3M Military Earplugs and Hearing Damage

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency tasked with ensuring safe workplace regulations. OSHA is the agency responsible for setting permissible levels of exposure to dangerous or threatening environmental conditions such as noise levels and for determining what protection must be provided. OSHA has determined that for noise levels louder or longer than 115 decibels for less than 15 minutes, ear protection is required.

As a comparison, military personnel are routinely exposed to sound levels which range upwards from 103, reaching 184 decibels intermittently or sometimes continue for hours. Military personnel are required to withstand these noise levels, while still conducting routine communications. 3M marketed their earplugs as a solution which would meet the needs of a critical population performing a critical role. The company claimed that their CAEv2 ear devices would suppress sounds up to 190 decibels and still allow for communication.

Unfortunately, despite the claims and even though they were used according to instructions, the earplugs may have left many military veterans inadequately protected. Thousands of veterans and active duty personnel may have experienced hearing damage or hearing loss.

Hearing damage symptoms may include:

  • Constant tinnitus – ear ringing, whining, or buzzing sound
  • Intermittent tinnitus
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of equilibrium
  • Partial or complete hearing loss in one or both ears
  • Inability to sleep
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Neck aches
  • Ear pain

The Veterans Administration reports that hearing damage is the single most common service-related disability. In 2017, the VA had 159,800 new claims for tinnitus and 81,529 new claims for hearing loss. This is in addition to the existing 1,157,585 cases of hearing loss and 1,786,980 existing cases of tinnitus.

The CAEv2 3M earplugs were in use for about a decade before the whistleblower lawsuit led to discontinuance of the earplugs use. This means that hundreds of thousands of military veterans and active duty personnel may have been exposed to or experienced hearing damage or loss.

3M Earplug Whistleblower Lawsuit

The 3M earplug whistleblower lawsuit was filed in May of 2016 by Moldex-Metric, a 3M competitor who was prevented from selling their products based on 3M’s claims of superiority and patent infringement. As part of the settlement, Moldex-Metric received $1.9 million but the whistleblower lawsuit was settled on behalf of the American people and the remainder of the $9.1 million payment does not go to those injured by the devices, it goes to the U.S. Department of Justice.  

Even though 3M agreed to the settlement, they did not admit any wrongdoing and called the lawsuit a “distraction to business”.

3M Military Earplug Hearing Loss & Tinnitus Lawsuits

Veterans or personnel who were injured, suffered hearing loss or damage due to 3M’s CAEv2 earplugs are filing product liability or injury lawsuits to seek compensation and help dealing with medical costs, treatment costs, pain and suffering and other damages. One of the first of these lawsuits was filed in January of 2019 in Waco, Texas in the U.S. District court for the Western District of Texas. Other lawsuits are expected.

Military veterans or loved ones of those who served in the military and used 3M Combat Arms Earplugs between 2003 and 2015 may have a legal claim for hearing damage or loss.  

Claims for hearing loss related to 3M earplugs used in combat may include compensation for:

  • Past medical costs including prescriptions, specialists, testing and therapy
  • Hearing aid cost
  • Expected future medical costs
  • Quality of life loss
  • Loss of income
  • Loss of future income
  • Pain and suffering

There are no guarantees and each case must be evaluated separately. Some areas may have limits on filing deadlines and legal assistance should be obtained as soon as possible.

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