The Department of Justice of the United States has settled for $9.1 million with manufacturer 3M Company to recover damages for allegedly defective combat earplugs that 3M sold to the U.S. military for over a decade, without any admission of liability by 3M. The lawsuit and settlement allege 3M knew the earplugs were defective even before they won the bid to be the exclusive supplier of selective attenuation earplugs to the U.S. military. These earplugs that the Department of Justice alleges are defective may have caused American soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss and potentially put the hearing of many of military service personnel at risk.

“These manufacturers appear to have known from their own product testing that the earplugs were defective and did not adequately block dangerous battlefield sounds,” says Paul Pennock, Weitz & Luxenberg’s co-chair of a National Litigation practice group. “What’s even more reprehensible is the manufacturers appear to have purposefully conducted flawed testing to achieve misleading results, and then made false claims about the effectiveness of their products in order to defraud the U.S. government and win an exclusive military contract.”

Earplug Manufacturers Conducted Flawed Product Testing Apparently to Deceive Military

3M’s dual-ended “Combat Arms” brand earplugs are two-toned earplugs originally created by Aearo Technologies – a company acquired by 3M in 2008 – and designed to, with one end of the plug (the olive-colored end), block all loud battlefield noises. The other side (the yellow-colored end) was supposed to still allow the wearers to hear verbal communication in close proximity, such as from fellow service members or enemy combatants, while blocking out loud sounds. The lawsuit and its accompanying settlement allege that the original makers of the dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs knew as early as 2000 that the earplugs had design defects which caused them to loosen in wearers’ ears and not provide the tight seal needed for proper noise blockage. This allowed users to sustain hearing damage unbeknownst to them, their commanding officers, or military medical personnel.

The suit and settlement allege Aearo then made false statements to the U.S. military by claiming the dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs met certain safety and testing standards, even though Aearo knew from its own product testing that the earplugs were defective. The suit further alleges that Aearo conducted deliberately flawed product testing that violated standard protocols to falsely prove the earplugs’ effectiveness in order to win an exclusive military contract in 2003.

U.S. Government and Taxpayers Pay Billions a Year to Treat Veterans with Damaged Hearing

The suit sought to recover the millions of dollars paid by the U.S. military for repeated purchases of the defective earplugs between 2003 and 2015, and the Department of Justice entered into a $9.1 million settlement with 3M in 2018. 3M denies any culpability in this matter and has yet to compensate any U.S. service members who have sustained hearing damage as a result of these apparently defective earplugs.

“Americans do not want corporations providing their servicemen and women with defective products. Corporations that do so, need to be held accountable,” explains Mr. Pennock.

Weitz & Luxenberg has filed other lawsuits against companies who manufactured and sold defective devices that caused hearing impairment and damage in users. In 2013, following a highly contested litigation, W&L entered into a multimillion dollar settlement against the manufacturer of defective cochlear implant devices that caused hearing impairment in patients. Overall, W&L has won over $12 billion in verdicts and settlements on behalf of innocent victims harmed by defective drugs and medical devices in the last 30 years.

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