Albany Personal Injury Law Firm on 3M Earplug Lawsuits
In July 2018, 3M Company settled a lawsuit by the federal government for $9.1 million over defective earplugs, and now faces potentially thousands of personal injury lawsuits by veterans.
For more than 10 years beginning in the early 2000s, contractors supplied the United States military with ear-protective devices known as dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2. Designed by Aearo Technologies, which was acquired in 2008 by the Minnesota-based company 3M, the plugs boasted a multi-use feature that allowed the user either to block all sound like traditional earplugs, or, if worn in reverse, to block loud battlefield sounds while letting in quieter sounds like verbal commands.
But there was a problem: According to many veterans, as well as a lawsuit filed against 3M by the U.S. government, the plugs were made too short, causing them to loosen over time and allow loud, damaging sounds into the ear canal. Worse, the claimants allege, 3M knew of the defect and failed to disclose it to the Defense Logistics Agency, which procured the devices.
2018 False Claim Lawsuit Leads to $9.1 Million Settlement
In a false claim lawsuit, the U.S. government alleged that 3M and its predecessor knew the earplugs were defective and therefore violated the False Claims Act in its contract for the earplugs. On July 26, 2018, 3M agreed to pay a $9.1 million settlement to resolve the allegations. In a statement made at the time, Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler, of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said that the department “is committed to protecting the men and women serving in the United States military from defective products and fraudulent conduct. Government contractors who seek to profit at the expense of our military will face appropriate consequences.”
Although the settlement effectively resolved the government’s case, all claims brought against 3M were still classified as allegations, with no determination of liability. The company maintains that its products were not defective and did not cause injuries to combat veterans such as tinnitus and hearing loss.
Subsequent Personal Injury Lawsuits Since 2018 Settlement
On January 22, shortly after sealed documents pertaining to military allegations against 3M were made public, a former Army sergeant filed his own lawsuit, claiming the earplugs left him with hearing damage and a constant ringing in his ears. Scott Rowe, a combat veteran who deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2004, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas, Waco Division, seeking unspecified damages for permanent ear damage.
Legal experts expect thousands of similar lawsuits to follow.
Tinnitus & Its Prevalence Among US Veterans
Tinnitus is the leading claimed disability for veterans; it affects one in 10 Americans overall, but veterans are 30 percent more likely to have the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 190,000 veterans were diagnosed with tinnitus in 2016, and 103,000 received a hearing-loss diagnosis.
Dreyer Boyajian LaMarche Safranko, headquartered in Albany, New York, represents clients in product liability cases in state and federal courts throughout New York state. Call us at (518) 463-7784 or contact us for a no-obligation consultation.