Everything You Need to Know About the Combat Arms Earplug Lawsuits

Madeleine Jones
April 17, 2019

As of February 2019, plaintiffs have filed over 50 lawsuits against the company 3M for allegedly selling defective earplugs to members of the military. 3M has sold dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs for over 12 years to the U.S. military. Now, injured service members and veterans are bringing lawsuits against the manufacturer for what they claim is a cover-up job.

The lawsuits allege that 3M knew or reasonably should have known about the earplugs’ defective design, yet failed to disclose this information to consumers. As a result, the victims suffered significant and, in some cases, permanent personal injuries. 3M settled a related suit the government brought last year for $9.1 million. Here is what you need to know.

Parameters of Use

The government issued the 3M Company Combat Arms Earplugs to military personnel from 2003 to 2015. The other model name involved in the lawsuits is Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2). The date the company discontinued the item is November 17th, 2015.

The exact number of defective earplugs issued is under review, but estimates put it at around 2,250,000 pairs. You may have received defective earplugs if you were part of an overseas deployment with the U.S. military during this time, or if you were part of a routine training program during this time.

Product Liability Lawsuit Allegations

The initial complaint against 3M for the earplugs stated that the product did not maintain a proper seal within the ear, allowing for dangerous noise levels to slip through without the wearer’s knowledge. It further alleged that 3M (and Aearo, the original manufacturer which 3M bought out in 2008) knew about the defect, yet failed to warn users or provide proper instructions for use. The complaint stated that Aearo/3M intentionally fixed product testing to make the earplugs appear more effective than they actually were.

Details on the Design Defects

Upon an inspection of the Combat Arms Earplugs, findings concluded that the double-ended earplug is too short to correctly enter the ear canal. The earplugs in question have one green side and one yellow side. The colors reflected the amount of noise protection. Yet both sides were too short to adequately block noise levels. Furthermore, the design allowed the earplugs to loosen and fail during use without the wearer’s notice.

3M fraudulently advertised that the yellow end of the earplug had a 0-decibel rating, when in reality it had a -2 decibel rating, which is an amplification effect. The yellow end also did not allow wearers to hear audible commands in the field, as 3M promised. 3M also said the green end of the earplug had a 22 decibel reduction, when in reality it only had about half this. These lies exposed soldiers to significant amounts of damaging noise during use.

Injuries Sustained

The defectively designed 3M earplugs allegedly caused a range of serious injuries to soldiers who used them during training and combat from 2003 to 2015. Injuries listed in the current lawsuits include ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing damage, loss of balance, and permanent deafness. According to the lawsuit, more than 800,000 service members suffer from hearing damage because of the defective earplugs.

The Outcome of the False Claims Act Case

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice won a False Claims Act case against 3M for covering up knowledge of its defective earplugs. The courts found 3M guilty for knowingly selling the earplugs to the U.S. military without disclosing the defects. The $9.1 million settlement will go directly to the U.S. military under False Claims Act rules.

Future Combat Arms Earplug Lawsuits

Lawyers around the country are now taking product liability cases against 3M regarding the defective Combat Arms Earplugs. These lawsuits aim to reimburse U.S. military service members for their individual personal injuries, hearing loss, pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages, and other damages connected to the defective earplugs. If you or a loved one served in the military between 2003 and 2015, used 3M earplugs during service, and suffered hearing damage, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. Contact a Las Vegas personal injury attorney near you.