The U.S. Department of Justice Announced 3M Will Pay $9.1 million for Defective Earplugs
In July 2018, 3M settled allegations that the company had violated the False Claims Act by knowingly selling defective earplugs to the U.S. government. While this settlement required 3M to pay the U.S. government $9.1 million, it did not require 3M to admit that they were liable for causing harm to military personnel who were issued 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs.
3M Developed Combat Arms Earplugs for Exclusive Use by the Military
Hearing protection is both standard issue and mandatory for all active U.S. military personnel, and 3M has been one of the top providers of hearing protection to the U.S. military for decades. 3M designed their Combat Arms Earplugs exclusively for military use, and they feature a unique two-sided design that was meant to allow the wearer to customize the amount of sound they wished to hear. Wearing the earplugs in the “closed position” was meant to block out all sound, including the sounds of aircrafts, military vehicles, gunfire, explosions and more. The “open position” was meant to block out loud noises, but allow the wearer to hear soft noises, such as spoken commands and enemy movements. It was this dual ability that initially attracted the military to the product, and the earplugs were standard issue in certain branches of the military during foreign conflicts between 2003 and 2015.
3M Allegedly Used Faulty Testing Practices When Manufacturing Earplugs for Military Use
According to a whistleblower lawsuit filed by competing earplug manufacturer Moldex-Metric, Inc., 3M made false statements regarding the ability of the Combat Arms Earplugs to protect users from auditory damage caused by loud noises. According to the complaint, the earplugs are not the proper length necessary to form the correct seal in some users’ ear canals. The earplugs can loosen imperceptibly, allowing more sound to enter the ear than expected and increasing the risk of hearing damage.
When the earplugs were originally tested to comply with military safety standards, an independent third-party test was not conducted. Instead, the earplugs were tested in-house on only 10 test subjects, some of whom were internal staff members. In order to comply with military safety standards, the earplugs would need to receive a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 22 in the closed position. 3M’s earplugs only received an average rating of 10.9. When tested in the open position, the earplugs received an average rating of -2, meaning the earplugs actually amplified noises instead of diminishing them. 3M allegedly modified the results to indicate an NRR of 0, and they indicated to the military that this rating would allow the wearer to hear soft noises while being protected from loud ones. In reality, to receive the results required to meet military safety standards, the user needed to fold back the flanges on the opposite side of the plug prior to inserting.
In February of 2000, the earplugs were allegedly retested in this manner, resulting in an NRR of 22 in the closed position. The open position was not retested in this manner, as a retest performed with the modified fit instructions would improve the NRR but disprove 3M’s assertion that the open position only filtered out loud noises and allowed the wearer to hear soft noises. Modified fit instructions were not provided to the users of the Combat Arms Earplugs, and as such, military personnel wore the earplugs in a way that caused the plugs to loosen imperceptibly, potentially causing serious auditory damage.
Of this testing, the original complaint stated, “3M’s/Aearo’s packaging and marketing of such earplugs with a labeled NRR of ‘22’ thereby misleads the military and has likely caused thousands of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss and tinnitus.”
Hearing Loss and Other Hearing-Related Injuries Are Widespread Among Veterans and Active Military
According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Annual Benefits Report for Fiscal Year 2016, more than one million veterans receive disability compensation for hearing loss, and more than one-and-a-half million veterans are compensated for tinnitus, or persistent ringing in the ears. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has discovered that veterans are 30 percent more likely than nonveterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment. Those serving after the year 2001 are four times more likely.
Hearing impairments have also been shown to lead to other debilitating conditions, such as anxiety and depression. In fact, researchers reported in a 2015 study that 79.1 percent of tinnitus sufferers had a diagnosis of anxiety, and 59.3 percent had depression, while 58.2 percent suffered both. In a 2017 study, researchers discovered that post-deployment hearing loss or tinnitus typically occurred together with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and traumatic brain injury.
Veterans and Active Military Personnel are Encouraged to Contact The Law Offices of Peter Angelos
Veterans and active military personnel make the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The mistreatment of the brave men and women who protect our nation is unacceptable. Representatives for the Law Offices of Peter Angelos have been contacted by thousands of veterans all across the country in regards to defective 3M earplugs.
If you or a loved one served in the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015 and experienced hearing damage due to defective earplugs, we urge you to contact The Law Offices of Peter Angelos, as you may be entitled to pursue compensation.