Veterans Sue 3M Over Defective Earplugs and Hearing Loss

April 26 2019 | Blog
  • There are thousands of lawsuits alleging hearing loss and injuries in veterans are happening all over the U.S. in relation to defective combat earplugs manufactured by 3M, the Minnesota-based defense contractor. The lawsuits follow a settlement 3M reached with the U.S. government in which the manufacturer agreed to pay over $9 million to resolve the allegations brought against it by the Department of Justice. 3M was accused of violating the False Claims Acts, a piece of federal legislation which prohibits companies and individuals from knowingly making false or fraudulent claims in order to secure government contracts or funding.

    The allegations of the limited effectiveness of 3M’s combat earplugs – which were used by the U.S. Army in combat zones and on training grounds for more than a decade – originally surfaced in 2016 in a lawsuit filed by a whistleblower. Now, former army members claim in lawsuits that 3M’s defective products were defective and are why they suffer severe hearing damage including hearing loss and tinnitus.

    If you or a family member might be affected by this issue, this two-part article will provide you with more information related to the defective earplugs controversy, legal options available to you, and compensation you may be able to obtain for your injuries.

    What are 3M Combat Arms Earplugs?

    The specific product at the heart of this controversy is 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2  (CAEv2). The earplugs were originally designed and manufactured by Aearo Technologies Inc. which was later acquired by 3M. CAEv2 were dual-ended and marketed as selective attenuation earplugs, with each of the product’s ends designed to offer a different level of protection. One end was supposed to work as normal earplugs, protecting from noises across the sound spectrum. The other end purportedly offered selective protection, canceling out high-impulse sounds typical of combat noises such as explosions or gunshots, while still allowing the soldiers to hear conversations and commands. The earplugs came to be a part of standard military equipment – both in combat zones and for training – and were widely used by soldiers between 2003 and 2015 as Aearo and later 3M became the exclusive provider of earplugs to the U.S. army.

    The Allegations

    Lawsuits brought by veterans against 3M focus on the fact that both the Minnesota-based manufacturer and its predecessor Aearo knowingly provided the U.S. Army with a defective product while fully aware of its flawed design and potentially harmful effects.

    The allegations state that the earplugs were too short for proper insertion in the ear canal and, as a result, would gradually loosen inside the ear, failing to provide adequate protection. Among adverse health effects directly related to the product’s faulty design and subsequent exposure to unsafe noise levels, plaintiffs name hearing loss and tinnitus (constant, uncomfortable buzzing or ringing in the ears).

    In our next installment, we will explore how the defective earplugs controversy was brought to light and what the ramifications may be to individual U.S. army veterans and their families.

    How a whistleblower’s action brought to light one manufacturer’s deceitful conduct which may have led to hearing impairment for hundreds of thousands of American soldiers

    As mentioned earlier in the 3M’s defective combat earplugs story, it was the action of a whistleblower that was instrumental in bringing this issue to the attention of the U.S. government. While previously unknown, the whistleblower has been identified as Moldex-Metric, Inc. – a manufacturer of hearing protection devices and 3M’s long-time competitor. In this second installment of the story, we will explore the allegations Moldex brought against the combat earplugs’ manufacturer. We will also advise how these allegations may personally affect veterans suffering hearing damage that may be traced to the use of defective earplugs in military situations over the past two decades.


    Moldex, a family-owned business based in Culver City, California, developed their own version of combat earplugs called BattlePlugs®. These earplugs are also dual-ended and provide non-linear attenuation which means they selectively cancel out certain noises while allowing the wearer to hear other sounds. It seems that Moldex obtained, through unknown sources, insider information related to misconduct and testing fraud on the part of Aero and 3M. This led to a qui tam, or whistleblower lawsuit which – in accordance with the federal False Claims Act – an individual or a company can introduce on behalf of the U.S. government if they discover that another party made false or fraudulent claims to secure government-sponsored payment, funding or contracts.

    In the lawsuit, Moldex specifically maintained that Aearo had already known of dangerous defects in their combat earplugs’ design at the product’s testing stage and as early as 2000. Moreover, Moldex claimed that 3M was also made aware of the issue at the time of the Aearo acquisition in 2008 since the Minnesota-based manufacturer hired the same employees who originally developed and tested the earplugs. The lawsuit further claimed that Aearo’s initial tests showed that the earplugs provided unacceptably low noise attenuation levels due to their loose fit in the ear canal and that they didn’t meet the acceptable standards set by the military and other regulatory bodies. Moldex also stated that Aearo knowingly skewed test results in order to make the product more appealing to the military.

    As mentioned in the previous installment, 3M had agreed to pay the U.S. government $9.1 million in July 2018 to settle the lawsuit. However, veterans whose hearing was severely affected by the company’s deceptive conduct which spanned over a decade, may now file individual lawsuits to claim damages for hearing loss or permanent hearing impairment.


    The 3M combat earplugs were widely used by the U.S. military from 2003 to 2015. During that time, American soldiers participated in multiple wars and military interventions and were deployed to war zones in various locations including Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. In addition, the defective earplugs may also have been used during training with firearms in the above-mentioned time period.

    Because CAEv2 earplugs had been in standard use for such a long time, adverse health effects caused by the product’s faulty design such as hearing loss, tinnitus or hearing damage of another kind may affect hundreds of thousands of veterans across the U.S. For example in Kentucky alone, there are currently 36,885 post-9/11 era veterans while in Tennessee there may be as many as 68,987 former Afghanistan or Iraq-deployed soldiers.

    Is the 3M Earplug Lawsuit Worth It?

    If you are a veteran who either actively served in the U.S. military or were in the reserve but participated in training with firearms between 2003 and 2015 and now suffer from hearing loss, hearing damage or tinnitus you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against 3M. Through litigation, you may be able to obtain financial compensation for your injuries including medical expenses related to your hearing impairment and non-economic damages such as loss of enjoyment of life.

    Contact Hughes & Coleman Today For A Free Case Evaluation

    Our legal team is here for you. Call us today at 800-800-4600 for a free case evaluation.

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