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Military Ear Plug Lawsuits: Design Flaws of 3M Earplugs

Veterans of the Army, Navy, and the Air Force wore 3M earplugs starting in 2003 to 2015 during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These earplugs were designed and sold with the promise that the service members wearing them would be protected from loud battlefield noises like gunfire and explosions that can cause hearing damage.

3M, the company that created and designed the dual earplug concept believed the product would better protect soldiers exposed to loud noises on the battlefield while at the same time allow them to hear lower-decibel verbal commands. One end, the yellow end, could be inserted to block out loud noises while enabling the soldier to hear the commands and the sounds of approaching vehicles. The other end, the olive-green end, when inserted in the ear would block out all sound to 0.0 decibels and was for those soldiers in artillery, and tank warfare.

However, many veterans believe the earplugs did not work as designed.
A group of former military personnel contracted with a law firm and filed a lawsuit against 3M. In July of 2108, a court found 3M liable. The plaintiffs settled for 9.1 million dollars because these earplugs were sold defective and in some cases caused permanent hearing loss. The 3M Company allegedly sold the ear plugs knowing that the defect existed.

This settlement does not mean other soldiers who used the earplugs during his or her military service are not entitled to compensation for personal injury due to hearing loss related to the defects associated with the 3M combat arms earplugs.

The Design Flaws

The 3M Earplug was designed by Aearo Technologies, sold to the Department of Defense, and was first issued to the military in 2003. 3M later bought the Aearo Company in 2008. As early as 2000, Aearo Company knew of the defects in the product, but they failed to notify the military. In 2106 a Moldex-Metric, Inc., whistleblower lawsuit claimed that the earplugs were defective, Aearo Company knowingly committed fraud, and consequently the 3M Company incurred product liability.

The earplugs were designed with two distinct uses in mind for the military. The yellow end of the earplug would block only loud noises while the olive-green end would block all noises. The earplugs were a rounded and triangular shape with overlapping segments. When inserted into the ear, the smaller end of the rounded triangle would penetrate deep into the ear and block all noise entering the ear. The defect was that the overlapping segments, made of soft plastic, would tend to loosen their position within the ear canal causing the seal to break and allow noise to enter through the broken seal.

The second cause of malfunction was that the yellow end of the earplug was not long enough, and because of the length it also would loosen during normal activity and allow loud noises to affect the eardrum. These two major defects in the design even made it difficult to evaluate whether the earplug was correctly inserted and there was no way of seeing that it might be loosened.

To further expand the failure of the 3M Company, even though they knew of the defects in the design they failed to plan a program to instruct the soldiers how they should use the earplugs to work more effectively. This action could have prevented some of the injuries to the wearers who were unsure whether or not their earplugs were even placed properly.

3M Earplugs lawsuit

Unfortunately, hearing loss and tinnitus, ringing in the ears, is one of the most-common disabilities faced by men and women serving in the military. By 2017, there were over 1.16 million payouts for hearing loss, and over 1.79 million servicemen and women who received compensation for tinnitus. The 3M Earplug Lawsuit has shown that military personnel were the victims of poor earplug design and company fraud. The 3M Company did not admit to wrongdoing while still paying the initial settlement. The Department of Justice said in relation to the 3M lawsuit that they are “committed to protecting the men and women serving in the United States military from defective products and fraudulent conduct.”

Final Thoughts

The Aearo Company and the 3M Company were found to be negligent in 2018 for the faulty design and eventual coverup of the defects in the design of the 3M Earplug used by the military from 2003-2015. If you have a hearing loss and served in the military during these years, you should contact the Law Offices of Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. to file a claim. We have a great deal of experience and success in winning compensation for victims. Contact us at Cochranlaw.com or call us at 1-866-MICH-LAW (1-866-779-7331) for a free consultation.

Tristan is a professional writer and had careers as a teacher of English, school administrator, and as a broker in real estate sales. He has gained a great deal of legal experience through his service as the president of a teacher’s union, a member of the board for a real estate association, and as the chairman of the Government Affairs Committee for the real estate board of directors. Before beginning a full-time job as a freelance writer, he was the Executive Director of the Global Business Alliance for a local Chamber of Commerce and sat on the Government Affairs Committee for the Chamber.

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