Minnesota-based 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million dollars in 2018 to settle allegations of fraud under the False Claims Act, when they reportedly misrepresented the Combat Arms Earplugs as safe and suitable hearing protection for combat soldiers. According to the DOJ press release, the case was initiated by a whistleblower who sued 3M on behalf of the government.
For their part, 3M still admits no liability for reported design defects in the Combat Arms.
As a counterpoint, hundreds of veterans who used the earplugs between 2003-2015 are filing product liability lawsuits against the company. The claims are:
- 3M reportedly knew about the defect in the Combat Arms Earplugs (both related to the length, but also to the ineffective “seal”)
- Court documents claim that 3M fraudulently chose to misrepresent the facts.
- Soldiers report that 3M failed to warn the recipients of the danger. Instead, soldiers were told that the earplug would protect their hearing.
- The manufacturer states that 3M failed to properly instruct users in proper placement and usage.
Over that 12 year period, approximately 1,560,000 military personnel were deployed to combat zones around the world, which means that there are many possible cases of noise -induced hearing loss. Already, the Department of Veterans Affairs reports an estimated 2.7 million cases of disability due to tinnitus, but that number quickly climbs when combined with the various degrees of hearing loss experienced by soldiers both in-and-out of combat situations.
Beyond just participating in the myriad of product-liability lawsuits for noise -induced hearing loss, veterans want to raise awareness about hearing loss and auditory issues, which are severely underreported. Add to that the fact that so many of the cases of hearing loss and tinnitus are irreversible limitations and disabilities that affect a veteran’s quality of life. Ultimately, it should not be too much to ask that military personnel are adequately protected from every possible danger, including invisible, audible ones.
With so much at stake, and the prospect of debilitating noise -induced hearing loss, military personnel are taking steps to launch additional lawsuits against 3M, but the company has responded by reportedly not assigning a lawyer to address the complaints. That kind of response tends to mean the company is confident in their position, but it can also be the ideal time to push forward in a combined force of action.