Know your rights and injury

3M Earplug Lawsuit

Product Liability Injuries

If you used 3M dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs while serving in the U.S. military and experienced damage to your hearing, you may be eligible to join a mass tort against the manufacturer. 

Between 2003 and 2015, the federal government contracted with the manufacturer 3M to provide hearing protection to all four military branches. However, the Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) that 3M provided were defective, leading to hearing damage for thousands of military members. If you are among those servicemen and women who suffered injuries due to the use of faulty earplugs, you may qualify for compensation through a 3M military earplugs lawsuit.

2021 update for 3M earplug lawsuit: $1.7M award

In June 2021, a Florida jury awarded a $1.7 million verdict to Lloyd Baker, a soldier who suffered hearing damage after using 3M military earplugs during his military service. The jury found that 3M failed to provide sufficient safety warnings for its earplugs, which the company designed specifically for military personnel in combat. However, the jury found 3M to be only 62% at fault for the injuries, which reduced the damage award for Baker to $1.1 million. 

The Baker case is only the third—of potentially thousands—of injury cases concerning 3M military earplugs to go to trial. It is the second verdict in favor of an injured veteran, with the first being $7.1 million awarded in favor of three injured service members in April 2021. These verdicts show the value of 3M earplug lawsuit claims, as well as the potential for a successful outcome in similar claims against 3M in the future. 

Background on the defective 3M earplugs

In 2008, Minnesota-based 3M bought a company called Aearo Technologies. Aearo was the company that developed the Combat Arms earplugs. As a result, 3M is responsible for the earplugs developed and distributed before and after 2008. 

3M had an exclusive contract with the Defense Logistics Agency, the federal agency that provides the military with necessary supplies. The earplugs were part of standard-issue equipment for members in all four branches of the military for well over a decade. 

The ongoing lawsuits center on the allegations that 3M was aware of problems with the earplugs but entered into this exclusive contract with the federal government anyway. The claims further allege that 3M did not tell the U.S. government that the earplugs were defective, falsified safety test results, and failed to include proper instructions or warnings about using the earplugs. 

Understanding the problem with 3M earplugs

Aearo designed the Combat Arms earplugs to be adjustable for military members. One side functioned as regular earplugs. The other side reduced extremely loud noises, such as explosions and gunfire, while still allowing users to hear quieter sounds. 

In the beginning, the earplugs were too big to fit into their carrying cases, which made them difficult for military members to carry easily. They also made wearing helmets, another necessary form of protective equipment, difficult and uncomfortable. 3M responded by making the earplugs shorter to resolve these issues. 

However, these adjustments made the 3M earplugs too short to fit into the ears of service members properly. Furthermore, the earplugs could gradually loosen during wear, which would result in exposure to damaging sounds over time. These issues reportedly resulted in hearing loss, tinnitus, or other hearing damage for military personnel who wore them.

Current 3M earplug lawsuit payouts

To date, two federal juries have found 3M liable for hearing damage associated with the use of its military earplugs. Two juries have awarded four service members a total of $8.8 million in damages against 3M so far in 2021, including $6 million in punitive damages.

However, another trial in May 2021 had a different result for 3M. Bloomberg Law reports that the jury did not hold 3M liable for the tinnitus veteran Dustin McCombs suffered. McCombs allegedly developed tinnitus after being exposed to machine gun fire while serving in the Army in Afghanistan. 

Nonetheless, of the five service members whose cases have gone to trial so far, four of the five have received jury verdicts in their favor. These results are positive for service members whose cases remain pending. They could also lead to large jury verdicts or cause 3M to start making reasonable settlement offers. 

False Claims Act lawsuit for 3M earplugs

The False Claims Act lawsuit that the U.S. government filed against 3M over the military earplugs is separate from the product liability cases that service members have filed for their injuries. 

The U.S. government and 3M entered into a government contract that provided millions of earplugs to all four branches of the military over more than a decade. In the lawsuit, the United States alleged that 3M knew of the earplug defects before finalizing the contract, therefore putting the health of millions of service members at risk. 

Why did the U.S. government sue 3M?

Here are the facts that you should know about the basis of the U.S. Department of Justice False Claims Act lawsuit:

  • A whistleblower, Moldex-Metric, Inc., reported to the U.S. government that 3M: 
    • Was aware of the defects in the military earplugs, 
    • Falsified safety test results to conceal the defects, and
    • Knowingly sold the earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency despite the defects that would cause poor performance.
  • As a result of the defects in the earplugs, they loosened and did not perform as intended to protect the hearing of service members effectively. 
  • Service members who used the earplugs suffered injuries to their hearing due to these defects.

What happened in the U.S. government lawsuit against 3M?

As a result, the United States used the False Claims Act to sue 3M. The events of that lawsuit occurred as follows:

  • The U.S. government filed a whistleblower lawsuit against 3M under the False Claims Act.
  • In July 2018, 3M paid $9.1 million to settle U.S. government claims.
  • 3M also paid the whistleblower $1.9 million in damages.
  • 3M admitted no liability as part of the settlement. 

This settlement served as an economic punishment to 3M for making false claims in marketing and selling its earplugs. However, the False Claims Act lawsuit did nothing to compensate the service members who suffered injuries from using the earplugs. As a result, thousands of pending lawsuits by individual service members remain unresolved. 

There is no current 3M lawsuit settlement for injured soldiers

Although the U.S. government has settled its claims with 3M, the individual military members who suffered hearing loss and tinnitus due to the defective earplugs have yet to reach any sort of settlement. However, with three cases now complete—two of which resulted in substantial verdicts for the injured soldiers—a mass settlement is becoming more likely. 

The lawsuits that have already occurred are known as “bellwether trials.” These initial trials serve as indicators for 3M and for the injured service members as to probable outcomes in future trials. Given these outcomes, other service members who have suffered injuries as a result of 3M earplugs may have similar success.  

Bellwether trials tend to influence settlement negotiations in mass tort litigation, like the thousands of cases currently pending in court against 3M. As 3M continues to face more jury verdicts in favor of service members, the company may be more likely to consider a mass settlement of all pending claims. Therefore, if you suspect that you have a claim against 3M based on military earplug usage, it is essential to get legal advice about your options. 

Hundreds of thousands of military service members have sued

According to Reuters, in April 2021, there were over 230,000 3M military earplug lawsuits pending in federal court in Pensacola, Florida. As of June 15, 2021, that number had risen to almost 250,000. Additionally, about 1,000 lawsuits remain pending in state court in Minnesota. 

Over two years, these lawsuits have grown to form the largest mass tort litigation in history. As more soldiers come forward to report hearing damage as a result of using 3M military earplugs, the number of lawsuits is likely to continue to grow. 

You may have grounds for a lawsuit if you or a loved one suffered injuries related to hearing loss, tinnitus, or similar issues from military earplug use while serving in the military. However, time limits apply to all personal injury lawsuits, and some cases against 3M have already resulted in jury verdicts. As a result, you should not hesitate to contact us for a free case review. 

If you suspect that your usage of defective 3M earplugs led to your hearing loss of related conditions, you may be eligible for compensation. The following information can begin the foundation of your case:

  • The dates of your military service
  • The branch you served in
  • Whether you received and used 3M military earplugs
  • Whether you received any instructions and training on using these earplugs
  • Your medical diagnosis of hearing loss, tinnitus, or related conditions

Even if you do not receive a disability rating from the VA for hearing loss, tinnitus, or a similar condition, you still may qualify to receive compensation. You can get a free, no-risk consultation about your case and learn whether you have any legal recourse for your injuries today. 

What was wrong with the 3M earplugs?

A defect in the design of the 3M military earplugs caused them to eventually loosen and come out of the ears of the individuals who were wearing them. The earplugs came with no warnings or indications of this defect, which could cause hearing damage. As a result, hundreds of thousands of service members suffered hearing loss and tinnitus while using specially designed earplugs that were supposed to protect them.

The 3M military earplugs also did not protect individuals from sound of 22 decibels, as they were supposed to. This level of hearing protection was only possible if users folded back a portion of the earplug, but service members did not receive this information. However, even if soldiers did manage to use the earplugs in this manner, the seal between the ear and earplugs would gradually loosen and allow sound to enter. 

In some cases, usage of the 3M earplugs led to varying degrees of hearing loss. In other cases, service members who had used the earplugs developed tinnitus. This medical condition involves constant ringing, buzzing, or roaring sounds in the ears. 

Military members are subject to many loud noises when deployed to combat zones. Aircraft, explosives, gunfire, and other noises that occur constantly can cause major hearing problems over time if service members have no protection against them. This is precisely why the U.S. government equipped all soldiers with 3M Combat Arms earplugs. 

The 3M earplugs had dual ends to make them more functional for soldiers in active combat. One side blocked out all noises. The other side was meant to block out only the loudest noises, while still allowing soldiers to hear soft noises, such as voice commands. 

However, the arms on each side of the earplugs were simply too short to be fully functional for the service members wearing them. The length of the arms caused the earplugs to eventually work their way out of the ear canal with no warning to the wearers. This problem exposed the soldiers to loud noises, often over long periods, which is exactly what the earplugs were supposed to prevent. 

How the combat earplugs caused hearing loss

The U.S. Department of Defense distributed 3M earplugs to all four branches of the military between 2001 and 2015. Since more than two million members of the military were serving overseas during this time period, use of the earplugs was widespread. Military members commonly used earplugs while serving in the following combat zones:

  • Iraq
  • Afghanistan
  • Somalia

When soldiers serve in combat zones and other regions of the world, they expect to hear loud noises that can affect their hearing. Gunfire, air raids, and similar sounds are precisely why the U.S. government equipped their service members with 3M military earplugs as part of their standard-issue equipment. Service members and the federal government fully expected that these earplugs would fulfill their needs. 

According to Mayo Clinic, chronic exposure to loud noises results in hearing loss. Over time, loud noises cause wear and tear on the nerve cells in the inner ear that send electrical impulses to the brain, allowing us to hear. Damage to those nerve cells, which could occur when military members wear defective earplugs in a combat zone, causes hearing loss and other hearing damage, such as tinnitus. 

Much of the hearing damage cannot be cured

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), hearing issues, including tinnitus, are the most common disabilities that service members report. In fact, as of 2020:

  • More than 1.3 million service members receive disability compensation for hearing loss.
  • More than 2.3 million service members receive disability compensation for tinnitus.

Unfortunately, hearing loss and tinnitus are largely permanent disabilities. While some procedures and equipment—such as implants and hearing aids—can help individuals better manage their disabilities, there is no cure for hearing loss. Likewise, a complete cure for tinnitus is not always a possibility. 

3M has not settled defective combat earplugs cases

To date, 3M has not taken any meaningful action to settle the personal injury cases stemming from the use of its military earplugs. However, more and more cases are headed to trial. In late August 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Casey Rogers ordered that 1,358 cases move to the active docket and be scheduled for trial. 

In the next wave, the court expects 10,000 to 20,000 more cases to move to the active docket. Setting court dates in a large number of cases puts increasing pressure on 3M to offer a settlement. Otherwise, the company may continue to experience the same sort of crushing defeats that occurred in two out of three cases already. 

How much would a hearing loss settlement be worth?

A variety of factors affects the amount of compensation awarded in any personal injury settlement. Most importantly, the sheer number of lawsuits that have led to this mass tort litigation will reduce the settlement amount that each injured service member receives.

If 3M took every case to a jury trial, each injured party would likely receive more. Settling mass tort litigation, then, is a bargain for 3M—at least to some degree. However, a higher-rate settlement becomes more likely when high jury verdicts come out of the first few lawsuits, as they have concerning 3M military earplugs. 

What you could expect for hearing damage

Compensation in any personal injury case addresses different damages or losses you have experienced. For example, when you experience hearing loss or tinnitus, you might be eligible for the following types of compensation:

  • Medical bills related to the treatment of your hearing loss and tinnitus
  • Expenses for hearing aids, implants, and other devices needed to relieve hearing problems
  • Lost income if your hearing damage prevents you from returning to work

You may also qualify to collect damages that are non-economic, or not tied to a specific financial loss. These damages can help compensate you for everything you have experienced as a result of your injuries from the defective earplugs, including:

  • Pain and suffering 
  • Loss of quality and enjoyment of life
  • Emotional distress

Compensation in this type of case also depends on how severe and permanent your injuries are. For instance, a complete and permanent loss of hearing is more serious than temporary partial hearing loss. These factors also impact the compensation that you may be eligible to receive through a 3M claim. 

Hearing loss is usually a hidden damage

When you cannot see their injuries, victims may find it more difficult to truly express to juries just how damaging their injuries are. Like many injuries and losses, hearing loss and tinnitus are internal. There is no way to tell how much of an impact that these injuries have had just by looking at a person. 

However, just because injuries are invisible does not mean that you are out of luck. Injury victims receive settlements and damage awards every day for unseen injuries that others have wrongfully caused. You will still have the chance to prove your injuries and show how they have negatively impacted your life. 

What happens next in the 3M earplug case?

The federal judge handling the multidistrict litigation—the 250,000 cases pending in federal court in Florida—has begun pushing cases toward the active court docket. This action means these cases will soon have scheduled court dates and other deadlines. The move puts significant pressure on 3M to offer a reasonable settlement amount not only to the service members in these cases, but to all service members affected by the defective earplugs. 

At the same time, an appeal of the most recent case by 3M is likely. 3M can also ask the district court judge to review and reduce the judgments against it as excessive. These are the classic responses of a big corporation when jury verdicts start to generate negative publicity and big hits to its financial bottom line. 

As these early cases progress, the outcomes give both 3M and law firms representing the injured service members more information necessary to settle these cases properly. Additional cases are scheduled for trial in October and December of 2021. 

Will 3M settle the cases?

The pressure of thousands of cases going to trial and multimillion-dollar verdicts against 3M could result in global settlement offers. A global settlement offer would be a sum of money that would resolve all pending defective earplug claims against the manufacturer. 

The benefits to 3M are that a settlement would end costly litigation, bad press, and the negative responses from juries regarding 3M’s deceit of not only the U.S. government, but U.S. military members as well. 

Contact us today about your potential case against 3M

Those who served our country deserve compensation for long-term injuries resulting from faulty supplies, such as the defective 3M dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs. We are waiting for you to reach out to us so that we can review your potential claim against this government contractor today. Our team can help you learn whether you or a loved one may have a valid 3M military earplug lawsuit. 

Remember, as the pending lawsuits continue to move forward, your time to pursue legal relief may be limited. The sooner you get started, the more time you will have to work with a mass tort attorney on your case. It costs you nothing for us to evaluate your case. Fill out our contact form today or call us at 1-844-44TORTS or 1-844-448-6787 for a free consultation.