Product liability suits are fairly commonplace, but sometimes these cases get bigger than expected, especially in situations where faults and defects are not disclosed. This is what happened in the case of 3M’s faulty earplugs that cost dozens, if not hundreds, of soldiers and veterans their sense of hearing.
These earplugs were termed “dangerously defective,” and failed to offer adequate protection during combat and training, leaving marines and soldiers with hearing loss and a range of hearing-related disabilities. Unsurprisingly, the impacts of this were deep and long-running, affecting hundreds of soldiers and their families over the years.
However, in an unfortunate turn of events, the long-term use of these earplugs led to irreversible damage that has landed the manufacturer in a lot of trouble. Let’s walk through some of the details of the case and how those who’ve experienced losses or damage as a result of this mishap can seek help.
What does 3M do, and how did they get involved?
3M is a Minnesota-based U.S. multinational that offers a range of products related to “industry, worker safety, U.S. healthcare, and consumer goods.” They have been a household name across the U.S. and many other countries, creating a range of products that can be used in the everyday. This is perhaps what makes it so challenging to take them on for such gross negligence.
The company was contracted by the U.S. to create special earplugs that could be used in combat and training, protecting soldiers and veterans from the impact of consistent exposure to noise. The military-grade earplugs were initially produced by Aearo Technologies, who created these dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs all the way back in 2003, but the company was bought by 3M in 2008.
Given the pressing need for these protective earplugs, seeing as how common hearing loss and disabilities are for those in service, these earplugs came as a welcome accessory as part of their combative gear.
Dual-ended and dual functional, these earplugs were claimed to protect against explosions but hear commands and communicate with one side inserted, and the other side blocking out any and every sound.
These earplugs were standard issue in many branches of the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015, including after the company was sold. The contract was an exclusive deal, which is what led to its extensive use in training and during combat, where soldiers are exposed to a range of very loud noises such as aircraft, weapons, machinery, and more.
Where does the trouble begin, and how did it get noticed?
In 2016, Modex-Metric Inc. filed a whistleblower lawsuit that helps the corporation responsible for the damage caused, citing failure to disclose defects in the product for over a decade. The company that won the military contract in 2012 produces earplugs known as the BattlePlugs, giving them the ability to test out their predecessor’s product too.
This came as a shock because the company continues to deny these claims and refuses to acknowledge their fault. The earplugs, which are meant to offer protection against the sounds, would loosen in the ear, failing to provide adequate cover. The flaw was one in design, which indicates negligence on their behalf in accurately testing or falsifying their claims.
Given how difficult it is for wearers or those around them to know the seal in the air canal is broken due to the plugs loosening, the issue went unnoticed for 13 years, with thousands of servicemen and women having suffered long-term hearing issues.
Noise exposure in the military is extensive and can lead to severe consequences on physical, mental, and emotional health, including heightening anxiety, depression, stress, and of course, PTSD. These, when coupled with physical disabilities and health issues, including hearing-loss, curb the quality of life post-service significantly.
It’s not just loss of hearing that’s impactful; it’s also conditions like tinnitus that can cause ringing and noises in the ears, that hinder their health. It’s unsurprising that so many of them are unable to regain a sense of normalcy or recover from conditions like PTSD with such physically painful reminders and triggers.
Treatments and interventions are not only long-term, but can often be challenging, and only partially effective, not really getting to the root cause. These issues are not standalone, as we’ve mentioned before.
The anxiety and stress that come with hearing loss and tinnitus impact veterans’ and soldiers’ ability to partake in other forms of labor, maintain healthy relationships, and remain socially active too.
What has the company said about this issue?
3M continues to deny these claims and hold its ground. However, they did pay $9.1 million as a settlement for the allegations. This, however, is not enough, given that thousands of military service folk and marines have suffered due to this negligence.
More recently, 3M also used the government contract defense in order to protect their own interests, which was shut down by the court, citing the company’s failure to consult the army or specialists when designing the product. U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers was the one to make this groundbreaking ruling, stating that the contract was not federal, given the lack of consultation or involvement of the military in product development. They were simply purchasers of the equipment.
How can those who’ve suffered seek reparations?
This ruling came following multiple joint lawsuits against the company by veterans who have suffered. Thousands of claims against the company now hold significant weight in court.
If you had been on active duty between 2003 and 2015 and were issued these earplugs, you too might be able to make a claim. If you’re suffering from hearing loss, disability, or other issues as a result of this faulty manufacturing and falsified results, get in touch with me.
I am a lawyer working on the 3M earplug lawsuit in Little Rock and looking to help you secure your rights in this matter. Reach out to me to see how we can proceed with building your case and file a claim against the defective 3M earplugs.