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The Minnesota based 3M company produced the Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs that were employed by military personnel from the years 2003 to 2015 during fighting and training exercises to guard staff hearing from gunfire and explosions. Hearing issues are one of the most frequent issues suffered by veterans so ear defense is a major concern for U.S. soldiers. Based on various situations, the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs were created to offer two different amounts of defense. The dual-ended plugs have a design that is easily recognizable. As their name implies, they consisted of two outward facing plugs, one green and one yellow.
When the yellow end was inserted into the ear, this was recognized as Weapons Fire mode. This level was designed to offer normal hearing for top situational awareness. It would allow staff to communicate, accept commands and listen to other important sounds on the combat field whilst still providing defense from top level noises like gunfire and explosions. This could have been the desired scenario in combat situations.
When the green end was inserted into the ear, this was known as Closed Protection mode. Constant Protection was created to block all sounds more thoroughly in order to offer full defense. Per 3M, the mode is for high level steady noise situations like those in tracked vehicles and air support. This level could have additionally been used in many standard practice exercises and environments as well.
Alleged Hearing Risks
Combat Arms EarplugsManufactured by 3M and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc, Dual Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) were designed for military usage and used broadly by thousands of servicemen deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2015. The CAEV2 was made to let two different protection modes, Weapons Fire mode and Closed Protection mode. The applicable level is determined by which side of the plug is placed inside the ear, yellow for Weapons Fire mode, green for Constant Protection mode. Weapons Fire mode was designed to allow for hearing speaking and communicating while still protecting from damaging sound levels from gunfire and explosions. The Constant Protection mode blocked all noise more fully that was useful for personnel operating in track vehicles, in air support or during regular training. Each settings were claimed to stop sounds up to a certain level yet in current litigation, the government has claimed that neither mode of the ear plug complied with the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) which 3M claimed because of an unreported manufacturing error.
$9.1 million Settlement Between 3M and the U.S. Government
During July of 2018, the U.S. DOJ reported that 3M had agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that they knowingly sold the Combat Arms Earplugs v2 to the U.S. military without admitting defects that hampered the effectiveness of the hearing defense device. The lawsuit was originally placed in 2016 under the whistleblower part of the False Claims Act which permits private citizens to sue for the federal government when they think that a defendant has represented false claims for government funds. In this issue, the whistleblower was awarded $1,911,000 for their part in the lawsuit.
Per the DOJ press release, the settlement resolved claims that 3M violated the False Claims Act by marketing or causing to be sold defective earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency. Specifically, the United States claimed that 3M, and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc., were aware that the CAEv2 was too short for proper insertion into users’ ears and that the plugs could come loose slightly and therefore did not perform well for certain people. It was also alleged that this design defect was known to 3M but wasn’t shared with the Department of Defense.
Injuries to Soldiers
If the claims against 3M are true, many personnel might have used error prone plugs which did not defend them as the product was supposed to. Based on the alleged design error, the earplugs could loosen while in the ear unbeknownst to the soldier allowing damaging sounds to make their way into the ear. Harmful sound levels may have serious and permanent effects which include partial or total hearing loss, or tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. Hearing damage is one of the most common afflictions suffered by active duty and former service personnel. Tinnitus, which can be debilitating, is just as prevalent. According to
tinnitus lawsuit with the VA Portland Healthcare System, last year there were over 1.6 million soldiers seeking medical care for chronic tinnitus.
You May be Entitled to Compensation
If you or a family member were issued Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs during service in the military from 2003 and 2015, and have since had partial or total hearing damage or suffer from tinnitus, your situation should be discussed with the Meneo Law Group to explore every option available to you.