Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers is reviewing cases for lawsuits related to defective dual-ended military earplugs that were manufactured by 3M Corp., a federal government contractor. Millions of American servicemembers and civilians were deployed overseas between 2002 and 2015 in support of the global War on Terror. Many were subjected to loud noises, especially those in combat. The U.S. military supplies active-duty servicemembers in combat zones with hearing protection as mandatory issue. It was discovered that the earplugs these servicemembers were given were defective, and as a result, thousands of soldiers and veterans have filed lawsuits against 3M for hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). These lawsuits have been given multidistrict litigation (MDL) status in the Northern District of Florida.
In addition to civil claims for hearing loss injuries, a False Claims Act whistleblower lawsuit brought against 3M in 2016 alleged that 3M manufactured and sold dangerously defective earplugs knowing they could not work as designed, putting soldiers at extreme risk of extensive hearing damage. The Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2) were designed with a faulty seal that allows dangerously loud noise to penetrate the wearer’s ears without their knowledge.
In July 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reached an agreement with 3M in which the manufacturer would pay a $9.1-million settlement to resolve the allegations. However, this only resolved the dispute between 3M and the government. The company is still financially liable to thousands of current and former military personnel who were harmed by the defects.
This web page will address the following issues:
- What is the defect alleged in the 3M earplug lawsuits?
- How many soldiers are impacted?
- What medical treatments are available to treat hearing impairment?
- What are my legal rights?
- What is the status of 3M earplug litigation?
If you or a loved one has experienced hearing loss or deafness after serving in the military and using a 3M earplug device, we urge you to contact Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC. Our personal injury attorneys are reviewing these cases and can advise you of your legal options--- including asserting a claim in the pending litigation involving these earplugs.
What is the Defect Alleged in the 3M Earplug Lawsuits?
In 2016, Moldex-Metric, Inc., a rival earplug manufacturer, filed a “whistleblower” lawsuit claiming that 3M was making false claims regarding its dual-ended earplugs and had been deceiving DOJ for years. (When the matter is an alleged fraud against the U.S. taxpayer, private citizens, including corporations, may bring a qui tam whistleblower suit on behalf of the government.) Within months, DOJ joined the lawsuit, which alleges the 3M devices “have likely caused thousands of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss and tinnitus in addition to exposing millions to the risks caused by 3M’s defective earplugs.”
The allegations were borne out when it was determined the earplugs were made too short to ensure that an adequate seal protects the ear canal. The poor design allows the earplugs to become dislodged in the ear, allowing significantly greater than acceptable levels of noise to enter the ear canal, increasing the risk of hearing damage.
In 2008, 3M Corp. acquired Aearo Technologies, the original maker of the CAEv2 earplugs, which had supplied the product since 2003 under an exclusive military contract. The lawsuit claimed that Aearo discovered in 2000 that the devices had specific defects which failed to provide adequate hearing protection but never revealed this to the U.S. military, and that 3M continued this deception.
What’s more, for more than a decade Aearo and then 3M were the exclusive supplier of U.S. military earplugs, effectively having no competition for the government’s business.False Certification
Before the CAEv2 earplugs were issued, the government required Aearo Technologies to certify that the devices conformed to the military’s standards and protected the wearer from noises and impulse sounds created by explosions and firearms, while still allowing them to hear normal speech including commands while on an active battlefield.
To pass certification, the earplugs must be defect-free and include detailed instructions to the soldier on how to properly handle and use them. Aearo’s internal tests failed to produce acceptable ratings expected by the military. Test subjects demonstrated mixed results when the earplugs were not correctly fitted.
3M claimed that the earplugs when inserted in the “closed” position achieved the proper noise reduction. But after 3M acquired Aearo, the company failed to include proper fitting instructions in the device packaging, instead telling wearers to insert the earplugs as they usually would into their ear canal. These inadequate instructions caused many soldiers to improperly insert them, which raised the risk of the device loosening and led to eventual hearing loss in many soldiers.
The whistleblower lawsuit claimed that 3M and Aearo misled the military through their packaging and marketing of the devices and “likely caused thousands of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss and tinnitus.”A $9.1 Million Agreement Concerning False Statements
The lawsuit filed by Moldex-Metric in 2016 and later joined by DOJ proved that when the earplugs were not adequately sealed, the devices created a high risk of hearing damage when soldiers falsely believed they were blocking out dangerous impulse sounds. While the $9.1 million settlement resolved the whistleblower lawsuit over 3M’s failure to disclose defects to the military, the company refused to admit liability.
How Many Soldiers are Impacted?
While the exact number is yet unknown, there are at least thousands of servicemembers and civilians who were injured by the defective 3M CAEv2 earplugs, and were left with total or partial hearing loss, ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears, and continuous/intermittent tinnitus that produces roaring, hissing, ringing, clicking or buzzing sounds. These injuries are the result of extremely elevated levels of noise caused by day-to-day military operations in and out of combat zones including heavy machinery, jet engines, gunfire and explosions, and have caused many sufferers to experience difficulty sleeping, focusing, and concentrating.
More than half of all military veterans report some degree of hearing loss related to their service. Nearly two million veterans are receiving military disability compensation for hearing loss and tinnitus.
Recently, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) announced that U.S. military veterans have a 30-percent higher risk than non-veterans of suffering from significant hearing loss, and those serving from 2002 and later are at four times greater risk.Who is affected?
Any military personnel who received government-issued earplugs might be affected by the damage caused by these defective devices. The military issued millions of the CAEv2 devices to servicemembers in the U.S. and abroad. Also, 3M sold these devices for civilian commercial applications including those by the U.S. Border Patrol.
Some military engagements that might have involved the use of these earplugs include:
- The second war in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom)
- The war in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom)
- Indian Ocean engagement (Operation Ocean Shield)
- The War on Terror, Northwest Pakistan
- The war in Somalia
- Libya crisis
- Iraq and Syria interventions (2014 to present)
- Yemen civil war
What Medical Treatments are Available to Treat Hearing Impairment?
You might be surprised to learn that hearing loss is actually the third most common health problem in the United States. There are many causes of hearing impairment including age and genetics; however, noise-produced hearing impairment causes irreversible damage to the eardrum, rendering the individual with a permanent disability. Medical science has yet to find a cure to reverse hearing loss and restore normal function, but hearing aids and other sound-enhancing technology can help to some degree. The most unfortunate fact is that nearly all forms of noise-induced hearing impairment are preventable.
A 2018 study published by the National Institutes of Health reveals that hearing impairment can significantly diminish an individual’s quality of life and is a risk factor for psychological distress. Research data show that individuals suffering hearing problems over an extended period typically live highly restricted lives and may encounter problems with work and family environments.Symptoms and Treatments for Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can result from a single acute episode of loud noise (such as a bomb blast), or long-term, continuous exposure to dangerously elevated noise levels—which is the common cause of military-related hearing loss. The symptoms often begin with subtle signs, like needing to ask other people to repeat what they’ve said and difficulty following conversations, especially in noisy environments. When hearing loss becomes severe, it’s almost impossible to carry on a conversation without a sound-amplification device.
Hearing loss is generally treated by ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialists, otolaryngologists and audiologists. When you present to your ENT with a hearing issue, he or she might order MRI or CT scans of your ears or do various sound tests.
Since this type of hearing impairment can’t really be cured or reversed with surgery or medication, treating it mainly involves using sound-enhancing technologies such as hearing aids and the like. The good news is that the technology keeps improving. Newer methods allow people with hearing difficulties to watch or listen to television without having to turn the sound up and risk annoying other people, while phone-amplifying devices allow the hearing impaired to carry on normal phone conversations.Cochlear Implants
Cochlear implants, which involve surgery, are increasingly being used in adults with severe hearing loss that can’t be helped with hearing aids. They trigger the nerves inside the ears to simulate the sensation of sound.
A surgeon would place the implant inside your ear, tiny electrodes next to your cochlear nerve, and a receiver under the skin behind your ear. About a month afterward, an audiologist would install the outside parts of the implant including a microphone, a transmitter, and a small computer called a speech processor. These parts are worn behind the ear like a hearing aid, and they send signals to the implant in your ear to translate the sounds around you.
However, it’s not a simple solution. It takes time, practice and assistance from therapists to adjust to cochlear implants. Your physician will be able to decide if you are a good candidate for this type of treatment.Symptoms and Treatments for Tinnitus
Signs of tinnitus include ringing, roaring, buzzing or hissing sounds in your ears that do not go away. As with hearing loss, tinnitus is treated by ENTs, otolaryngologists and audiologists.
Unlike hearing loss, some cases of tinnitus respond to medication. It is sometimes treated with low doses of antidepressants or antianxiety drugs, such as amitryptiline or alprazolam. The use of a steroid placed into the middle ear along with the generic drug alprazolam has helped some patients. Studies have shown that a hormone called misoprostol also may help in some cases.
A hearing aid can help some people with tinnitus who have difficulty discerning outside sounds.
Many patients have benefited from tinnitus maskers, which are devices resembling hearing aids that produce a pleasant sound that can block out the ringing or other jarring internal noise of the tinnitus. A newer device is a tinnitus instrument, which is a combination of hearing aid and masker.
There are also various therapies that have been shown to help reduce the effects of tinnitus including cognitive therapy, which may be suitable for people who can’t or don’t want to use medications or other devices, but they generally take quite a bit of time to be effective.
Whether a former soldier suffers from hearing loss or tinnitus or both, major lifestyle adjustments clearly have to be made with this disability. All of the above-mentioned treatments and therapies naturally involve a considerable investment of time and money by the patient.
What are my Legal Rights?
If you are an active-duty servicemember, veteran, or if you served in another U.S. law enforcement agency at any time since 2003 and suffered a hearing impairment, you might be eligible to receive monetary damages from the negligent earplug manufacturer. Receiving compensation for your injuries in no way affects your military disability benefits, because the lawsuit involves a private government contractor and not the U.S. military directly.
You have the right to recover the costs of your medical care, lost income, pain and suffering, loss of normal life and other damages from the defendant or defendants whose wrongdoing caused your injuries. Do you believe you have a potential lawsuit due to a hearing impairment associated with the defective 3M CAEv2 dual-ended military earplugs? Contact Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers now at (888) 424-5757 to discuss your legal options during a no-obligation, free case evaluation. Our legal team is ready to accept your call 24/7. Let us answer your questions and explain the monetary compensation you are likely entitled to receive.
What is the Status of 3M Earplug Litigation?
Millions of personnel used the CAEv2 devices, and a substantial minority came back from overseas with some sort of hearing loss. The Moldex-Metric/DOJ lawsuit and settlement does not preclude private parties from filing their own civil lawsuits against 3M. Federal whistleblower lawsuits and civil suits are entirely different matters. In the wake of the settlement, hundreds of product liability lawsuits have been filed against 3M by individual plaintiffs. By June 2019, this number was approaching one thousand, and indications are this is only the beginning of the litigation 3M will face.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys have been actively publicizing these lawsuits in an attempt to get more people to come forward, and this issue is becoming more publicly visible.
The product liability claims allege that 3M (and previously Aearo) designed and manufactured a defective product and failed to warn users of the defect before selling the product. The suits allege that 3M did not properly test the earplugs before placing them on the market, thus failing to meet their obligations under their exclusive military contract. The company allegedly knew of the defect but did not take any steps to remedy it before selling the product to the U.S. government.
While 3M settled the government lawsuit, the company is expected to contest these private lawsuits using the “government contractor defense.” Specifically, 3M will likely claim that it manufactured the earplugs according to specifications provided by the government and should not be found liable.MDL Status
In April 2019, multidistrict (MDL) status was granted for the CAEv2 litigation in Florida federal court. Often when there are a large number of cases in federal court that are closely related but not suitable for a class action, they will be consolidated for the sake of judicial efficiency. For purposes of discovery and other pretrial matters, the cases will proceed together, but they will be tried separately after several selected “bellwether” cases go to trial.
The litigation is still in its early stages and going through pre-trial motions. Since MDL status was just recently granted, there have been no trial dates set. The number of cases is expected to grow as more potential plaintiffs discover they have suffered hearing damage and publicity surrounding the case increases.
Currently, there have been no settlements involving 3M earplug lawsuits.
Our 3M Hearing Loss Attorneys can Help Recover the Compensation You Deserve
If you used 3M’s combat earplugs as a member of the military, government contractor or other law enforcement personnel and suffered any kind of hearing loss or damage, contact Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers to find out how you can file a 3M CAEv2 earplugs lawsuit of your own to be compensated for your injury. Our dedicated team of 3M earplug defect attorneys work on contingency, so you owe no legal fees until we win financial recovery on your behalf. Call us today.
This material was prepared by attorney Jonathan Rosenfeld. The page was updated on October 3, 2019 and will be updated as the pending litigation develops.