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3M Faces Onslaught of Lawsuits over Faulty Combat Earplugs
Members of the U.S. military continue to sue the Minneapolis corporate giant 3M over injuries to their hearing caused by the company’s Combat Arms version 2 (CAEv2) ear plugs. With more than 288,000 actions consolidated under a multidistrict litigation umbrella as of March 2022, the 3M earplug litigation has become the largest MDL in U.S. history.
Former and active members of the military who used the earplugs may be eligible to file a lawsuit to seek compensation for their hearing injuries.
What Are 3M Combat Arms Earplugs?
Aero Technologies (Aero) designed, developed, and manufactured the CAEv2 earplugs for the U.S. military in 2003. The Army had asked Aero for a dual-purpose earplug that protected service members’ hearing from the loud noises, vibrations, and explosions present in combat and allowed them to communicate with military personnel near them in the field of operation.
The result was Aero’s CAEv2. One end of the earplug provides total hearing protection to the wearer, and the opposite end allows them to hear nearby conversations.
3M acquired Aero Technologies in 2008 and continued to produce and sell the ear plugs to every branch of the service until 2015, when they released Version 4.
3M Combat Earplug Defects
In a whistleblower case brought by a 3M competitor, the U.S. Department of Justice asserted that 3M and Aero knew around 2000 that the earplugs did not work for all size ears and that slippage could occur when there was not a snug fit. Manipulation of the device was needed in these situations for the earplugs to work.
Litigants are raising similar allegations in the MDL lawsuits, claiming that the leaky earplugs did not work and caused hearing loss and tinnitus in the service members who used and trusted them.
Service Men and Women Suffered Hearing Injuries
Users of the CAEv2 earplugs have reported hearing loss and tinnitus resulting from use of the faulty 3M earplugs during their military service, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that hearing problems such as those described in the 3M lawsuits are pervasive in veterans.
Audiologist Fenja Mattson told NBC News, “Anything over 90 decibels is painful, and service members frequently experience decibel levels up to 150 decibels in training and combat.”
Protective hearing devices are a basic, required piece of equipment for every service member when in these conditions.
One cause of hearing loss is chronic exposure to loud noises. Hearing loss involves harm to the outer or middle ear, inner ear, or a combination of these. Most hearing loss is irreversible.
Symptoms that indicate hearing loss include:
- Experiencing muffled speech/sounds
- Needing to turn up the television or radio volume
- Withdrawing from conversations
People suffering from tinnitus describe it as a ringing in the ears that only they can hear. For some, it’s constant, whereas others say it comes and goes.
Tinnitus sufferers also hear the following sounds:
Tinnitus can interfere with the ability to hear a sound, concentrate, or sleep.
Mattson says veterans who experience hearing loss or tinnitus have trouble connecting with their families, enjoying everyday activities such as listening to music or watching TV, and participating in conversations.
Cases Consolidated in a Federal Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)
When a large number of lawsuits center on common factual questions, upon request, the federal judiciary will often consolidate the lawsuits into a single case, referred to as multidistrict litigation.
With hundreds of thousands of cases stacking up against 3M over the combat earplugs, the lawsuits were consolidated into MDL No. 2885. Judge M. Casey Rodgers of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida presides over this MDL.
Centralizing case administration in an MDL eliminates duplicative discovery, prevents inconsistent pretrial rulings, and reduces the number of resources expended by the parties, their counsel, and the judiciary.
Lawyers assist their clients in adding their cases to the MDL. It’s not too late for Minneapolis veterans and active service members injured by the 3M combat earplugs to see if they qualify to file a lawsuit and join the MDL.
Plaintiffs Winning Large Payouts
Judge M. Casey Rodgers is coordinating what are known as bellwether cases. The judge works with the litigants to select and try a few initial cases to test the waters. In June 2020, the judge issued an order outlining the discovery, motion, and other procedural schedules for the initial bellwether trials. Since then, 14 bellwether trials have taken place. Plaintiffs have won eight, with awards totaling more than $200 million.
In March 2022, jurors in Florida awarded $50 million to a U.S. Army veteran who suffered permanent hearing loss and severe tinnitus from using the 3M earplugs over 9 years during military training and duty.
Two army veterans won a $110 million verdict in January 2022.
In another case, a Tallahassee jury found that hearing injuries to an Army National Guard merited $8 million in compensatory damages. His injuries were caused by use of the earplugs in both training and combat.
Veterans Hearing Benefit Act of 2022
According to the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, the state is home to more than 327,000 military veterans.
In February 2022, U.S. Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota introduced the Veterans Hearing Benefits Act of 2022, which is intended to “reduce the red tape many veterans face when trying to get care for hearing loss as a result of their service.”
Sen. Smith proposed the legislation after her office’s 2018 “Veterans Listening Tour,” during which she learned of the widespread hearing loss among Minnesota veterans.
The bill is not the only avenue available to Minnesota veterans who need care for hearing loss or tinnitus resulting from their dedication to their country and the protection they provided to millions of American citizens during their time in the service.
A Minnesota attorney with experience handling cases involving harmful products can help eligible veterans file a claim against 3M and receive compensation for their injuries.
How to Qualify for 3M Lawsuit
If you used 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs during military service and were diagnosed with tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in the ears that could be a sign of hearing damage, or any other hearing-related injuries, you may qualify to file a claim.
Note that filing a lawsuit against 3M will not affect disability benefits.
To receive a free legal consultation and find out whether you may be eligible to file a claim, contact Milavetz Law today.