Military personnel are frequently exposed to extremely loud noises from explosions, gunfire, heavy vehicles, and during other combat and training-related scenarios. It’s unsurprising then that hearing loss and damage (specifically, tinnitus) is the most common disability among U.S. veterans.
To combat the risk of hearing injuries in the military, personnel are given special earplugs for protection. But now, more than 270,000 veterans who suffered hearing damage or loss while using Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 by 3M Company are suing the manufacturer. These widespread product liability cases have culminated in becoming the largest multidistrict litigation (MDL) lawsuit in U.S. history. Hundreds of millions of dollars have already been awarded, and many more trials are forthcoming.
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Recent 3M Earplug Settlements
Product liability claims have been piling up since 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to the U.S. government in 2018. This came two years after a whistleblower lawsuit was filed against the company. The lawsuit claimed 3M Co. knowingly kept silent about the flawed earplug design that prevented a proper fit, hid falsified test results, and failed to provide proper instructions for use.
The whistleblower case was swiftly followed by thousands of veterans who filed lawsuits against 3M for hearing damage. The first few trials occurred in 2021, and the verdicts and settlements have been mixed so far; some veterans have won their product liability cases against 3M, while others have ruled in favor of the manufacturer.
In December 2021, $22.5 million was awarded to a veteran who used Combat Arms Earplugs V.2 for eight years and suffered tinnitus and hearing loss during that time. The settlement was the largest of its kind to date but was quickly surpassed at the end of January 2022. Two veterans were awarded $110 million, crushing the previous high. Both men used 3M’s earplugs during training and while deployed and claimed the product caused their hearing injuries due to a faulty design and inadequate instructions. A few other multi-million-dollar settlements were awarded last year, including $13 million in November.
While there’s been an upward trend of settlement amounts since the first trial, the manufacturer has continually maintained they were unaware of the design issue and that their earplugs were safe. With many more trials pending, 3M Company’s reputation and financial stability are at risk of crumbling.
Bankruptcy Role in 3M Earplug Lawsuits
In July, Aearo Technologies, a 3M subsidiary, voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to resolve the liability of 3M earplug lawsuits. 3M claimed it would make resolving 3M Earplug cases easier and quicker through bankruptcy proceedings. They’ve said plaintiffs will get paid sooner and that it will avoid years of lengthy and costly individual lawsuits.
3M and Aearo Technologies believe the earplugs, when appropriately used, were safe and effective.
As Aearo pursued Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it needed to be determined if 3M earplug lawsuits would be temporarily paused. Since 3M didn’t file for bankruptcy, a judge would have to agree to give 3M the same protection
On August 26, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey J. Graham denied efforts to temporarily halt 3M earplug lawsuits. Judge Graham decided that Aearo’s bankruptcy restructuring could proceed while lawsuits continued forward in multidistrict litigation (MDL). 3M says it will appeal the bankruptcy court’s ruling.
Following the bankruptcy ruling, U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, who is overseeing the MDL in Pensacola, Florida, has ordered 3M to sit down with plaintiffs’ lawyers for settlement mediation.
While deployed and during training, loud sounds continually put veterans at risk of hearing loss and tinnitus. To address these risks and prevent injuries, special earplugs are issued to military personnel.
Over the course of 12 years, 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 were sold to every branch of the military because of their design. The dual-ended earplugs allowed two options for use: inserting one end of the plug was supposed to reduce sound but allow for voices to be heard, while the other end was designed to block all sound.
But it’s since been discovered that the 3M earplugs were too short, which prevented a proper seal in the ear canal, ultimately allowing loud noises and sound vibrations to be heard. The result has been devastating for thousands of veterans who now have permanent hearing loss or tinnitus because the earplugs failed to protect them.
In addition to claims that 3M Co. knew about the ineffective earplug design, lawsuits have also accused them of hiding falsified safety test results and failing to provide proper instructions for use. The test results in question occurred when Aearo Technologies LLC designed and developed the product. 3M bought Aearo in 2008 and continued to manufacture the earplugs using the same design.
Symptoms of Tinnitus and Hearing Loss
The military issue earplugs manufactured by 3M Company identified in lawsuits were supposed to protect those who used them from hearing loss and tinnitus. These injuries occur when the hairs and nerves of the inner ear are damaged.
Symptoms of tinnitus include a ringing, humming, clicking, buzzing, or roaring noise in the ear. These sounds range from a fairly low pitch to extremely high, and they can come and go or remain constant. As a result, those with hearing damage can have difficulty hearing other sounds and frequently ask others to repeat what they said or to speak louder because voices can sound muffled.
But the symptoms of tinnitus and hearing loss are often not just physical. Mental health struggles are common and include depression and anxiety, the inability to focus, and feeling isolated and angry. It can lower self-esteem and cause fatigue.
Why File a 3M Earplugs Claim
Earplugs are vital to protect those in service from hearing loss and damage. The result of these lawsuits could help support and compensate the thousands of veterans who have suffered injuries because of faulty earplugs. Those who bravely and selflessly commit to serving and protecting the country deserve to be properly protected in every way possible, but 3M products failed to do so.
If you experienced hearing loss or damage while serving in the military and were issued 3M Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2, it’s essential to contact a products liability lawyer to discuss your legal options. As the largest MDL in U.S. history, veterans and military personnel deserve justice and compensation for their life-changing injuries.