Department of Defense contractor 3M faces a series of lawsuits representing hundreds of veterans who allege the company provided U.S. armed forces with defective combat earplugs that failed to work as intended and led to hearing loss and tinnitus as a result.
The lawsuits, filed in multiple states including Maryland, Texas, South Carolina and Florida, follow a $9.1 million settlement between 3M and the U.S. government over the same dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2. That agreement resolved allegations that Aearo Technologies, a company that 3M later bought, violated the False Claims Act by selling the U.S. defective combat earplugs that wouldn’t stay properly inserted in the ears.
The 3M company knew about the defect but continued to sell the earplugs to the Pentagon between 2003 and 2015. The government provided the earplugs to active-duty service members to protect them from harmful noise caused by aircraft machinery, gunfire, explosions, and armored vehicles. Because the earplugs failed to properly protect the ears, it’s likely that thousands of soldiers over more than a decade may have suffered hearing loss and tinnitus as result, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in one of the pending cases told AARP.
3M maintains the earplugs were not defectively designed and says it settled the case to avoid the costly litigation and distraction it posed to the company and its employees.
The two-sided earplugs were designed to filter out more or less noise, depending on which side was inserted in the ear. According to AARP, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has found hearing loss and tinnitus are the most prevalent service-connected disability among U.S. veterans.
More than 2.7 million veterans currently receive disability benefits for hearing loss or tinnitus, the U.S. government says. Those are only the veterans who have been through the diagnosis process and documented; the number could be substantially higher.