Consumer products company 3M is facing lawsuits filed by veterans and active duty military personnel who suffered hearing damage or loss while using 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEV2). The earplugs were promoted to protect hearing from combat-level noise, but a defective design may have allowed them to loosen without the user being aware of it.
3M Military Earplug 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 Hearing Loss
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
- Loss of equilibrium
- Partial or complete hearing loss in one or both ears
- Inability to sleep
- Irritability and anxiety
- 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 Earplug Hearing Loss 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.
- Company to pay $9 million after allegedly selling defective combat earplugs to US military, Military Times (7/2018)
- Combat veteran files lawsuit for loss of hearing due to defective military ear plugs, KHOU 11 (1/2019)
- 3M Company Agrees to Pay $9.1 Million to Resolve Allegations That it Supplied the United States With Defective Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs. The U.S. Department of Justice (7/2018)
- Impact of noise on hearing in the military, Military Medical Research (2/2015)
- Occupational noise exposure, U.S. Department of Labor (12/2017)