3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2) descended upon military personnel as general issue gear when the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) jumped on the hearing protection devices as a way to solve a growing problem of hearing loss amongst troops.
The earplugs were pitched to the government at a low unit cost. Furthermore, they offered a unique dual-ended design that made them beneficial for blocking different levels of sounds, depending upon the intensity and/or consistency of sounds to which soldiers were being exposed.
The yellow side of the earplugs suggests an “open” position. In this position, the earplugs reduce the volume of loud, intermittent noises, but they still enable the soldier to hear audible commands, approaching enemy vehicles, etc.
The green side of the earplug suggests a “closed” position. When the soldier inserted this end into their ear, all sound was to be blocked. Its most useful application was for the soldier experiencing constant high-level sounds.
When Aearo Technologies (later purchased by 3M) pitched their Combat Arms earplugs to the government, they claimed that the yellow side of the earplug featured a 0-decibel rating, as the government required. With this rating, the manufacturer asserted that soldiers would be able to hear critical spoken field commands, while also blocking out intermittent, loud sounds, such as explosions.
The yellow ends failed in this capacity. According to the complaint filed by Moldex against 3M on behalf of the government, the manufacturer’s testing of the yellow end revealed a rating of -2, which indicates an amplification of sound, as one would experience with a hearing aid.
The manufacturers also failed to comply with the required standards for testing.
Filings against Aearo/3M further indicate flaws on the green side of the earplugs. In this case, the manufacturer falsified the decibel-reduction rating on the earplug, which would provide hearing protection in times of constant high-level sounds, like during loud combat. A design flaw prevented this feature from even having a chance of working for the purpose it was designed.
In brief, the earplug stem for the Combat Arms earplugs is too short. As such, the user is not able to correctly insert the earplug into the ear canal. This is true of both ends. The problem is a large flange that blocks the side that is in use from properly and fully penetrating the ear. As a result, the earplugs can loosen imperceptibly and do not form an effective seal to block out the eardrum-damaging sound.
Aearo/3M cloaked the negative effects of this design flaw by rolling back the flange on the unused end of the earplug while the other end was inserted into the ear.
To intensify the egregious nature of this fraud, the manufacturers did not properly instruct soldiers on how to insert and use the earplugs to overcome these flaws. Consequently, thousands of servicemembers suffered severe hearing impairment — all for the sake of profit.
Already, so many cases with similar complaints have been filed against 3M that a Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation centralized and transferred them as 3M Combat Arms Earplug Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2885 to the United States District Court of Northern District of Florida.
The court will handle all pretrial matters, such as admissible evidence, for pending cases, toward the end of streamlining the judicial process.
If you have sustained hearing loss or tinnitus from wearing 3M earplugs during your military service, you can still file a lawsuit against the manufacturer and pursue the compensation you deserve.