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The Minneapolis headquartered 3M business manufactured the Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs that were used by military personnel during the period 2003 to 2015 during fighting and training exercises in order to defend staff hearing from gunfire and explosions. Hearing issues are one of the most frequent issues suffered by soldiers so ear defense is a serious concern for U.S. soldiers. Based on various situations, the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs were designed to offer two different levels of protection. The dual-ended earplugs have a design that is very noticeable. As their name suggests, they were made of of two outward facing plugs, one green and one yellow.
When the yellow part was put into the ear, this is recognized as Open Fire mode. This level was created to offer normal hearing for top situational awareness. It would allow soldiers to communicate, receive commands and hear other important noises on the battlefield whilst still providing defense from peak level sounds like gunfire and explosions. This could have been the desired scenario in combat situations.
When the green end was placed inside the ear, this was referred to as Constant Protection mode. Constant Protection was created to block all noise more completely in order to provide full defense. Per 3M, the mode is for high-level steady noise situations like those in tracked vehicles and air support. This level might have also been used in many standard training exercises and environments as well.
Alleged Hearing Issues
Combat Arms EarplugsManufactured by 3M and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc, Dual Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) that were designed for military usage and used extensively by thousands of personnel sent to Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2015. The CAEV2 was made to allow for two different protection modes, Weapons Fire mode and Constant Protection mode. The applicable level is determined by which part of the earplug is placed inside the ear, yellow means Weapons Fire mode, green for Constant Protection mode. Weapons Fire mode was designed to allow for hearing speaking and communicating yet still protecting from damaging sound levels from gunfire and explosions. The Constant Protection mode blocked all noise more completely that was useful for soldiers operating in track vehicles, in air support or while regular training. Each settings were purported to block sounds up to a certain level but in current legal action, the government has alleged that neither mode of the ear plug complied with the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) that 3M alleged due to a non-reported manufacturing error.
$9.1 million Settlement Between 3M and the U.S. Government
During July of 2018, the United States Department of Justice reported that 3M had agreed to pay $9.1 million in order to resolve allegations that they knowingly sold the Combat Arms Earplugs v2 to the American military without disclosing errors that declined the effectiveness of the hearing protection device. The lawsuit was originally placed in 2016 under the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act which allows private parties to sue for the federal government when they believe that a defendant has submitted incorrect 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 U.S. alleged 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 earplugs might come loose slightly and therefore didn’t work well for some people. It was additionally alleged that this design defect was known to 3M but was not disclosed to the Department of Defense.
Harm to Personnel
If the claims about 3M are true, thousands of servicemen might have used fault prone earplugs that didn’t protect them as the product was supposed to. Based on the claimed design flaw, the earplugs could loosen while inside the ear unbeknownst to the soldier allowing damaging sounds to make their way into the ear. Harmful noise levels can have serious and permanent effects including partial or total hearing loss, or tinnitus, a ringing inside the ears. Hearing loss is one of the most frequent issues suffered by active duty and former service personnel. Tinnitus, which may be debilitating, is just as prevalent. According to
combat earplugs with the VA Portland Healthcare System, last year there were over 1.6 million service personnel looking for medical care for chronic tinnitus.
You May be Eligible for Compensation
If you or a loved one were given Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs during service in the military from 2003 and 2015, and have since experienced partial or total hearing loss or suffer from tinnitus, your scenario should be reviewed with the Meneo Law Group to explore every option available to you.