3M Combat Earplugs Lawsuit

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3M Combat Ear Plug Lawsuit

The chemical and materials conglomerate 3M purchased a company called Aearo in 2008 that manufactured a dual-mode earplug called Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2). This particular model earplug was sold in huge numbers to the U.S. military and was in regular use until 2015.

Since then, thousands of service members have come forward stating they suffered hearing damage while using these earplugs. 3M did not instruct service members on proper use of the earplugs, and plaintiffs believe that 3M knew the earplugs would be ineffective if not used correctly.

The earplugs were dual-mode, with one mode blocking all noise and one mode allowing speech and orders to be heard while blocking harmful levels of noise. Users of the earplugs claim they did not work as intended and that they suffered hearing loss as a result.

In 2018, 3M agreed to pay a $9.1 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit brought by a whistleblower stating that 3M knew the earplugs were ineffective when they sold them to the military. This settlement opened the floodgates for personal injury claims against 3M.

Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is when structures inside the ear are damaged due to intense sound. This hearing deficit can take time to appear and may manifest as hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Sounds and conversation can become muffled and may require the use of a hearing aid or other device to correct.

Symptoms of NIHL include:

  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Trouble understanding conversation at normal volumes
  • Pain in the ears when exposed to loud noise
  • Problems hearing speech in crowded spaces

NIHL has two main causes:

  • Impulse noise: Impulse noise is a one-time exposure to very loud sound, like an explosion or gunfire. Repeated exposure to impulse noise can cause severe hearing damage.
  • Continuous noise: Continuous noise refers to loud sound consistently made over a long period, such as when a jet engine is running or when music is played with the volume on high over a long period of time.

The 3M Combat Arms earplugs were designed to stop hearing loss from either cause, but according to many who used them, they were not effective.

Side effects of NIHL can include the following:

  • Dizziness: The structures of the inner ear are also responsible for helping us maintain balance. If they’re damaged by loud noise, your sense of balance can be affected.
  • Dementia: A hearing study from Johns Hopkins found that even mild hearing loss can increase the risk of dementia by a factor of two.
  • Depression/Anxiety: Losing your hearing can severely affect your quality of life and lead to feelings of depression or anxiety.
  • Social Isolation: Not being able to understand what people are saying may lead you to simply stay away, cutting yourself off from contact with family and friends.

Updates to the 3M Lawsuit
On April 30, 2021, a jury awarded the three plaintiffs in a 3M class-action lawsuit $7.1 million in damages, including $2.1 million in punitive damages, as compensation for their hearing loss injuries. The plaintiffs were Army veterans.

This case went to trial, and 3M was unable to mount a defense for their actions. The award of punitive damages shows that a jury believes 3M acted with intentional disregard for the harm caused by their negligence.

This outcome will likely lead to many additional personal injury claims against 3M and increase the value of the class action lawsuit against them.