June 7, 2019

Why Thousands of Veterans May Be Eligible for Compensation for Defective Earplugs

In Michigan and across the nation, veteran military members are stepping forward to seek the compensation they deserve in the wake of the verdict of the 3M Earplug Lawsuit.

At Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. we stand with veterans of the United States military in pursuing justice and fully believe that 3M must be held accountable for their negligent actions and the harm they caused. This is why our team of top personal injury lawyers, led by personal injury specialist and managing partner Terry Cochran, proudly works to represent the many men and women of the American Armed Forces who have been so unjustly affected by defective 3M Combat Earplugs.

We have developed the following go-to guide to help veterans in Michigan better understand the how, when, and – most importantly – who of the 3M Earplug Lawsuit and why thousands of more veterans across the nation may be eligible to obtain compensation for defective combat earplugs.

What was the purpose of the combat earplugs?

One underestimated threat to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces is the high possibility of suffering hearing loss and hearing impairment during a tour of duty.

Of course, it has long been known that exposure to harmful noise levels is a viable and very real concern for anyone who is exposed to loud noises, such as gun and artillery fire, on a daily and nearly constant basis.

This is one of the reasons that OSHA – the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – requires that construction companies provide employees on active construction sites with adequate hearing protection devices if noise control strategies do not effectively reduce noise levels below permissible exposure limits.

As defined by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the permissible noise limit that a worker may be exposed to is set at 85 dB for a maximum of eight hours. Construction companies may even be held liable through the Worker’s Compensation Act and seek out representation by a worker’s compensation attorney if these conditions are not met.

By comparison, the artillery fire that military personnel are exposed to daily while deployed to a combat zone typically gives off a decibel rating of 120 dB, 35 dB above the acceptable limit as defined by OSHA. For heavy artillery, the decibel rating can exceed 180 dB at their peak, one of the reasons that hearing problems are the single most common service-connected disabilities that our nation’s veterans face today.

Such noise exposure has been found to not only lead to hearing impairment and loss, but also to an increased likelihood of developing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

To combat the devastating effects of noise exposure for military personnel in active combat, Aero Technologies Inc. was offered and accepted a contract with the US government to supply combat earplugs for military members in 2003. The Combat Arms earplugs the company then designed, tested, and produced became standard issue devices that were intended to offer military members dual noise-canceling effects.

Aero Technologies was eventually bought out by 3M in 2008, who continued to produce and provide the Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs (CAEv2) to the US Military based on the design originally developed by Aero Technologies. They did so under contract with the US government until Moldex-Metric Inc. won the military contract in 2012.

However, 3M continued to produce and sell the CAEv2 model for another three years until 2015.

How were the CAEv2 earplugs intended to work?

The CAEv2 design developed by Aero Technologies is based on a non-linear model. In other words, they are selective attenuation earplugs that are designed to offer dual noise-canceling capabilities, as indicated by the bi-colored ends.

If worn in the closed position, or with the olive-colored end inserted into the ear, the earplugs should completely cancel out any noise, just as a traditional set of earplug would. However, if worn in the open position, or with the yellow end inserted into the ear canal, the earplugs should work to significantly reduce noises at a higher decibel rate, such as explosions, while still permitting noises at lower rates to be heard.

This concept was extremely well-suited to military work, as it allowed for the cancellation of harmful noises while permitting military personnel to hear certain, important environmental alerts, such as commands or the sounds of approaching enemy combatants.

Unfortunately, the earplugs themselves did not live up to their intended design.

How did the CAEv2 Earplugs cause harm?

Though well-intended, the defense contractor’s symmetrical design made achieving the proper fit within the ear canal, a crucial aspect of the function of an earplug, difficult to achieve.

Among other defects that were incorporated into the design, the earplug stem was simply too short, making it hard for military members to insert the plug deeply enough into the ear canal for the plug to maintain its function.

According to the ensuing lawsuit:

“When the earplug is inserted into the ear according to standard fitting instructions, the basal edge of the third flange of the non-inserted end of the earplug is prone to press against some wearers’ ear canals and fold back to its original shape, thereby loosening the seal.”

In addition to this, when the earplugs did come loose, it was not readily apparent to the wearer and, because they were unaware that the earplug had been impaired, they could not know to adjust them.

This defect allegedly resulted in various hearing loss and hearing damage injuries, including tinnitus and a loss of balance. These injuries are detrimental to both the individual and the US Armed forces as a whole, as a loss of hearing plays a significant role in operational effectiveness and medical readiness as well as life quality.

Who was affected?

For the duration of the contract – which ran from its initiation in 2003 until 2012 – millions of military members in all five branches of the Armed Forces were issued CAEv2 earplugs for use in conflict zones and training.

Nearly 1.5 million military members in each of the five service branches, including the National Guard and Reserves, were either in training or participating in active duty during this period, including those deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, North-West Pakistan, the Indian Ocean, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

What is the False Claims Act?

Enacted in 1863 during the Civil War, the False Claims Act, also known as the “Lincoln Law,” was enacted to combat suppliers of the Union Army from defrauding the federal government.

Even though it is considered one of the government’s most effective tools for mitigating fraudulent activity, the False Claims Act was used sparingly in the century following its enactment.

This changed in 1986 when highly publicized allegations of abuse within the defense contracting injury prompted amendments to the act. The amendments expanded the role of whistleblowers and increased their monetary incentive and removed barriers for bringing action against fraudulent persons, including allowing private parties to sue on behalf of the government.

Since these amendments were passed, cases filed under the False Claims Act have allowed the US government to recover more than $59 billion in compensation for fraud and abuse of government spending, including the 3M Earplug Lawsuit.

What is the 3M Earplug Lawsuit?

In 2016, a whistleblower from Moldex-Metrix Inc. – the company that took over 3M’s military contract – came forward with the information that Minnesota-based 3M had knowingly supplied the US government with a defective product. This led the company to file a class-action lawsuit against 3M under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act.

According to the lawsuit, “The protracted fraud perpetrated on the military by 3M, whose dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs… have likely caused thousands of soldiers to suffer significant hearing loss and tinnitus in addition to exposing millions to the risk.”

Statements from the trial also included allegations that the 3M Company conducted its own trial testing for the earplugs that indicated they were defective. Despite this, the company allegedly falsified documents that certified that the earplugs complied with military standards.

Despite the fact that the trial testing indicated that the CAEv2 earplugs were defective, 3M Company continued to deny that any problems with the earplugs existed and refused to admit their liability in supplying the product, choosing instead to settle. This means that, though the case has been resolved, the claims presented by the whistleblower remain allegations and no determination of liability was actually reached.

The Department of Justice demanded a settlement fee that totaled $9.1 million, which the company paid later that year.

Who receives the settlement money?

The whistleblower in the 3M Earplug Lawsuit will receive $2 million of the settlement that was agreed upon by the Department of Justice. The remaining sum will go to the federal government for costs incurred.

This effectively means that, even though US veterans are the primary victims of the design defect in question, none of that settlement is allotted to the individual military personnel who were harmed.

For this reason, since the settlement, thousands of lawsuits filed by veterans across the nation have flooded the government with cases seeking compensation for their hearing injuries.

At Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C., we stand with the American Armed Forces and advocate for justice on their behalf. Possible compensation for damages can include past, present, and future medical expenses such as doctor visits, lab tests, and mental or occupational therapy sessions.

It can also include compensation for physical, mental, and emotional suffering, the cost of hearing aids, the cost of lost income, and reduced quality of life.

The team at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates. P.C. works to safeguard military rights

If you used CAEv2 earplugs as a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard between the years of 2003 and 2012 and now suffer from impaired or damaged hearing, you may be entitled to compensation.

At Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, we don’t work to represent large corporations or insurance companies: instead, we work to advocate for everyday individuals whose lives have been hindered by those companies, including the military men and women who have suffered debilitating hearing loss and impairment at the hands of the 3M Company.

Our team of top personal injury lawyers in Michigan is led by the firm’s managing partner Terry Cochran, who has worked to limit his practice to one that advocates for those who have sustained devastating personal injuries, including everything from loss of earning ability and psychological trauma to the life-altering effects of hearing loss and impairment.

Persecuting on behalf of military personnel who have been affected by the defective combat earplugs necessitates extensive experience in and mastery of different fields of law. This includes experience in pursuing medical compensation and a complete command of law pertaining to product liability and defective products, including manufacturing warning, and design defects.

As a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association and the Michigan Trial Lawyers Association, Terry Cochran possesses considerable and invaluable experience in these disciplines. In addition to his ineptness at preparing and presenting difficult cases to a jury, he also has substantial experience when it comes to advocating for clients to the Court of Appeals.

In personal injury cases, Terry has helped clients to obtain settlement payments for their injuries in excess of millions of dollars, including one of the ten largest gross compensation sums ever returned in a personal injury case in Michigan: an amount of $12 million.

Though such results cannot be guaranteed in every personal injury lawsuit, these verdicts indicate the successes that can be achieved on behalf of victims by the expert legal team at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C.

Act now

In Michigan, the statutes of limitation in Michigan place limits on the amount of time that veterans have to seek compensation for the hearing loss and Tinnitus injuries inflicted by the knowingly negligent actions of 3M.

This means that, if you fail to pursue a claim and take action within the pre-determined amount of time, you may lose the opportunity to seek justice for your hearing impairments altogether.

If you or a loved one has been left a victim of faulty Combat Arms Earplugs, it is essential that you act quickly in seeking the compensation that you deserve. Contact the Law Offices of Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. at 1-866-MICH-LAW (1-866-642-4529) for a free case evaluation and get started on the path to recovery today. If there is no recovery, you owe us nothing.

Tim is a writer and editor who earned his Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Maryland and calls Washington, D.C., home after spending most of his adult life in the country’s capital. Although Tim spent most of his post-college years in the restaurant industry, he became interested in writing about legal matters after he recently moved to Colombia. Today, Tim writes professionally about medical malpractice, drug policies, and workplace injuries. Tim is focused on curating his freelancing career and plans to work remotely for as long he can.

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