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The Minneapolis headquartered 3M company produced the Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs that were used by armed services staff during the period 2003 to 2015 during combat and training exercises to protect soldier hearing from gunfire and explosions. Hearing
combat earplugs are the most frequent issues suffered by soldiers so hearing protection is a serious worry for American soldiers. Based on different scenarios, the 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs were designed to provide two different amounts of defense. The dual-ended earplugs have a design that is very noticeable. As their name suggests, they consisted of two outward facing plugs, one green and one yellow.
While the yellow part was put inside the ear, this was known as Open Fire mode. This level was created to offer normal hearing for peak situational awareness. It would let soldiers to communicate, accept commands and hear other important noises in the combat field whilst continuing to provide protection from top level noises like gunfire and explosions. This could have been the desired mode in combat situations.
When the green end was placed inside the ear, this was known as Closed Protection mode. Constant Protection was created to stop all noise more thoroughly in order to offer full defense. Per 3M, the mode is for high level steady sound situations like those in tracked vehicles and air support. This mode could have also been used in many standard training exercises and environments as well.
Claimed Hearing Issues
Combat Arms EarplugsManufactured by 3M and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc, Dual Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) were created for military usage and used broadly by thousands of personnel deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq between 2003 to 2015. The CAEV2 was made to let two different protection modes, Weapons Fire mode and Closed Protection mode. The appropriate setting is determined by which side of the plug is placed into the ear, yellow for Weapons Fire mode, green for Constant Protection mode. Weapons Fire mode was designed to allow for hearing speech and communicating yet still protecting against damaging sound levels from gunfire and explosions. The Constant Protection level blocked all noise more fully which was useful for personnel operating in track vehicles, in air support or while regular training. Each settings were purported to stop sounds up to a certain level but in current litigation, the government has alleged that neither mode of the ear plug complied with the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) which 3M claimed because of a non-reported manufacturing flaw.
$9.1 million Settlement Between 3M and the U.S. Government
In 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 the company knowingly sold the Combat Arms Earplugs v2 to the U.S. military without disclosing defects that hampered the effectiveness of the hearing defense device. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2016 under the whistleblower part of the False Claims Act which permits private citizens to sue for the federal government when they believe that a defendant has represented 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 announcement, the settlement took care of claims that 3M violated the False Claims Act by marketing or causing to be sold defective earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency. More specifically, the United States 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 could come loose imperceptibly and therefore didn’t work well for certain individuals. It’s also alleged that this design defect was known to 3M but was not shared with the Department of Defense.
Harm to Personnel
If the claims against 3M are correct, thousands of personnel could have used error prone plugs which didn’t protect them as the equipment was supposed to. Based on the claimed design error, the earplugs could come loose while in the ear unbeknownst to the soldier letting damaging sounds to make their way inside the ear. Dangerous noise levels can have serious and permanent effects including partial or total hearing loss, or tinnitus, a buzzing inside the ears. Hearing loss is one of the most frequent issues suffered by active duty and former servicemen. Tinnitus, which may be debilitating, is just as frequent. According to a research scientist with the VA Portland Healthcare System, last year there were in excess of