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3M Combat Arms Earplugs

Nationwide, U.S. veterans are experiencing partial or full hearing loss and high incidences of tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ears) due to 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs (version 2). These dual-ended earplugs affected thousands of soldiers, including those headed into combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2003 to 2015. Between this time, the U.S. military distributed the product, and it became standard equipment for soldiers in battle. Bohrer Brady attorneys are currently investigating the cases in support of our U.S. veterans.

What are Combat Arms Earplugs?

Commonly used, Combat Arms Earplugs were intended for many levels of protection. The dark side (“closed position”) of the plug was supposed to block loud noise created by aircraft, armored vehicles, gunfire, machinery, and explosions. The yellow side (“open position”) of the plug was intended to protect the eardrums by blocking out loud sounds while allowing softer sounds (like spoken commands or enemy movements) to be heard. The goal was to allow soldiers to communicate freely without the interference of deafening noise.

The Design Flaw

In July of 2018, Moldex-Metric, Inc. stepped forward under the Whistleblower Protection Act and exposed 3M and their product’s design flaw. Not only was the plug too short for proper insertion into users’ ears, but it also gradually loosened, resulting in an under par performance for certain individuals. The failure in the design ensued in partial or full hearing loss, loss of balance, and high incidences of tinnitus (ringing or buzzing of the ears). Moldex-Metric alleged that 3M knew about the flaw since 2000 but continued to manufacture and market the earplugs. According to the lawsuit, 3M also falsified their certification to comply with military standards.

Minnesota-based 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million in compensation to the federal government for failing to disclose defects that decreased the hearing protection. However, the product was never recalled and is still likely used by soldiers and sold by other vendors.