3M Agrees on Lawsuit Settlement for Defective Combat Arms Earplugs Supplied to U.S. Military

Key Takeaways

  • 3M has agreed to a $6 billion settlement over its defective Combat Arms earplugs, involving roughly 240,000 current and former U.S. military service members.
  • The earplugs, produced between 2003 and 2015, were supposed to protect soldiers from hearing damage but failed due to design defects.
  • You could be eligible for compensation if you’ve used these earplugs and suffer from hearing issues.
  • Legal action is time-sensitive, so consult an attorney soon to check if you qualify for a share of the massive settlement.

Thousands of lawsuits were filed against 3M by military servicemen and veterans for their hearing loss caused by the defective Combat Arms earplugs. 3M sold these to the U.S. government for use in the military and other services.


Reaching the $6 Billion Settlement Announcement

Both sides won verdicts during the lengthy litigation of one of the most significant mass tort lawsuits of products supplied to the military in the U.S. Negotiations appeared to have stalled. Then, 3M failed to get the lawsuits moved to the bankruptcy court. On August 29, 2023, 3M and the plaintiffs’ lawyers both announced the settlement of $6 billion.

Aearo Technologies Inc. and its parent company, 3M, manufactured and supplied the military with earplugs to protect from loud sounds during training and combat between 2003 and 2015. The company stopped producing the earplugs in 2015 without a product recall.

3M’s California-based competitor, Moldex-Metric, Inc., was the first to file a lawsuit against the company in 2016. It claimed 3M sold the defective earplugs despite knowing they did not meet the required government protection standards, meaning they were possibly responsible for the hearing loss and tinnitus experienced by thousands of military personnel.

Individual service members filed lawsuits against 3M for the problems caused by the defective earplugs after the company agreed to pay the Department of Justice $9.1 million to stop the allegations. However, they were not willing to acknowledge responsibility.

There were so many lawsuits filed with similar complaints that to speed the process and reduce the costs, they were centralized as multidistrict litigation (MDL) under a Florida district court in 2019.

The current and former U.S. military service members suing 3M are about 240,000, making it the largest MDL in U.S. history.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the Special Features of the Combat Arms Earplugs?

The Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs (CAEv2) were made by Aearo Technologies, a company bought by 3M bought in 2008. They feature a unique dual-ended design that allows the user to block out any sound or allow low-level sounds to pass through, eliminating the need to carry two earplugs.

Soldiers could turn them according to the noise levels by reversing them on the yellow side for low-level noise or the green side for total sound elimination.

What are the Defects of the 3M Ear Plugs?

Despite 3M marketing the earplugs to the U.S. government for their exceptional Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR), the CAEv2 has an alleged design defect. It does not seal properly in the inner ear of some wearers because it’s too short. When the implant loosens, the user loses efficiency in the sound protection offered.

In 2016, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to the U.S. Government after it filed a qui tam suit for false claims when selling the CAEV2 earplugs to the government since it did not disclose the defect.

Unfortunately, hearing problems are a common disability of military service. According to Forbes Advisor, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) employs the most audiologists in the U.S. The article refers to 1.3 million veterans receiving hearing loss disability compensation and nearly double the amount for tinnitus as of 2020. A recent study of 85,000 active service members found a significant increase in tinnitus sufferers.

Furthermore, compared to statistics from the military from 2003, the number of combat soldiers with significant hearing loss has grown considerably from 15% to more than 50%.

An average person can hear from 0 to 140 decibels (dB) of sound. Sounds that measure more than 90 dB cause discomfort, and those louder than 120dB are the ones that result in hearing loss, either temporary or permanent.

Unfortunately, sounds emitted by most weapons used in the military exceed 120 dB. For example, weapons like a 9mm pistol or M-16 rifle register at least 157 dB. Some of the bigger weapons used emit up to 182 dB. Looking at the scale of these sound measurements, the measurement of a rock concert is 110dB, and the takeoff of a jet engine measures 140 dB. The sound of a rocket launch is 180 dB.

Who Used the Defective 3M Ear Plugs?

The U.S. military used the defective 3M earplugs between 2003 and 2015 after the government approved the specifications. These were distributed to military personnel, Border Patrol, federal law enforcement personnel, and civilian contractors.

The army, marine, and the National Guard mostly used the CAEv2 earplugs. The tremendously loud sounds experienced by Navy and Air Force members exposed to jet engines required different earplugs.

Did I Use the CAEv2 Ear Plugs?

The CAEv2 was not the only earplug purchased by the U.S. Government from 2003 to 2015. However, if you used a dual-ended earplug in the military, it was undoubtedly the CAEv2.

Do I Have a Claim if I used the CAEv2?

Yes, you may have a claim for compensation if you used the dual-ended earplug from 2003 to 2015 and have suffered hearing loss or tinnitus.

When enlisting, all service members have a hearing test. The same applies during their time in the military and when they leave. Therefore, the service records will provide some proof of any hearing loss during service while also considering the types of weaponry used during your service.

How Many Lawsuits Have Been Filed for the Defective Earplugs?

Close to 240,000 lawsuits were filed in federal and state courts across the U.S. The cases were consolidated into an MDL in 2019. You may have a legal claim for compensation if you were or are in the military or other law enforcement agency and suffer hearing loss or tinnitus after using the dual-sided earplugs.

Is There a Deadline for Filing a Claim Against 3M?

Contact a lawyer for advice because there are time limits to filing a claim against 3M. However, some circumstances may allow for an extended period of filing a claim.

What is the Payout I Can Expect

Compensation varies, and in some successful test cases, people have also received punitive damages with rewards of up to $22 million. Payouts may include medical expenses, lost earnings, diminished life quality, mental anguish, pain and suffering, etc.

Final Take

If you believe you have a claim against 3M after using its earplugs, whether you are still active or a veteran, you should contact an attorney. A free legal consultation will determine whether you can meet the requirements to claim a portion of the $6 billion settlement.

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