A former U.S. Marine recently filed a lawsuit against 3M and its subsidiary Aearo Technologies LLC over claims that their defective earplugs caused his tinnitus and hearing loss. The plaintiff, Kevin Doyle, claims that Aearo Technologies falsified test results in order to sell defective earplugs to the military as part of a multi-million-dollar annual contract.
3M discontinued their earplugs in 2015 because of a design defect, but the company never issued a recall.
Doyle enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1993 and eventually joined the army as a certified weapons instructor. Before enlisting in the military, Doyle reportedly had no symptoms of hearing loss or any ear-related injuries.
Doyle was issued 3M Combat Arms earplugs between 2003 and 2010 for training, deployment in the Middle East and for use as a certified weapons instructor. In 2014, he was diagnosed with hearing loss in his right ear and bilateral tinnitus.
The complaint alleges that 3M and Aero know of the design defect, but deliberately falsified test results to secure a multi-million-dollar annual contract with the military. The design flaw was undetected for more than a decade by users of the earplugs and the U.S. military.
In 2018, 3M paid $9.1 million to settle an investigation by the Justice Department. That settlement resolved allegations that the company violated the False Claims Act by selling defective earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency.
The U.S. claimed that 3M and Aearo Technologies knew that their dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs were too short to be properly inserted into the ears and that the earplugs could loosen without the wearer being aware. For this reason, the earplugs did not perform well for certain individuals. The U.S. also claimed that the company failed to disclose the design defect to the military.
3M is facing hundreds of lawsuits from veterans over the design defect and failure to warn users of the defect or provide proper instructions for use.