What are Combat Arms Earplugs (Version 2)?
Combat Arms Earplugs (Version 2), also known as “CAEv2,” are earplugs that were developed and sold by Aearo Technologies, Inc. (Aearo) until 2008, when the company was purchased by 3M. These earplugs were standard issue to members of the U.S. military from 2003-2015. They were provided to protect service members’ ears against the loud noises they were exposed to in the field, training drills, and during certain other duties, such as gunfire and explosions.
Today, hundreds of thousands of people who served in the U.S. military claim a defect in the earplugs left them with tinnitus, hearing loss, or both.
What’s Wrong with the Earplugs?
In 2016, a whistleblower filed a complaint on behalf of the U.S. government, alleging that the CAEv2 earplugs had a design defect that caused them to loosen in a way the wearer would not notice, leaving their ears unprotected or insufficiently protected. The whistleblower also claimed that 3M employed substandard testing, that the noise reduction rating (NRR) on the packaging was not accurate, and that 3M (and/or affiliated companies) failed to disclose these issues to the U.S. military when selling them the earplugs.
How Does the Whistleblower Case Affect Injured Service Members?
The whistleblower case was a claim on behalf of the government, and related only to losses sustained by the government. 3M agreed to pay more than $9 million to settle the claims. However, the company continues to deny that it did anything wrong.
Individual service members who have been diagnosed with hearing loss or tinnitus after having relied on the 3M earplugs may pursue claims directly against 3M.
How Many Members of the U.S. Military Were Affected?
The exact number of service members who may have suffered hearing loss or tinnitus due to the alleged defect in the 3M earplugs is unknown. Tinnitus is one of the most commonly-claimed disabilities among veterans. In a single recent year, more than 150,000 veterans filed for disability benefits on the basis of service-related tinnitus.
Hundreds of thousands of lawsuits have already been filed by former service members, but there may be many more veterans who are eligible for compensation. In each year between 2003 and 2015, there were between 1.3 million and 1.5 million active members of the U.S. military.
3M Earplug Litigation
Complaints against 3M allege that the earplugs sold to the military were too short and could work loose without the wearer noticing. They further claim that 3M’s predecessor, Aearo, was aware of this problem and failed to disclose it. And, plaintiffs say Aearo discovered that the problem could be solved or mitigated by folding back the flanges on the earplug, but did not warn the military or users of the need to do so.
More than 250,000 claims against 3M have been consolidated into multi-district litigation (MDL) in Florida. That means that a large number of similar cases have been clustered together for purposes of pre-trial motions, discovery, and other elements of the cases. This saves the parties and the court from having to litigate the same questions thousands–or, in this case, hundreds of thousands–of times.
Consolidating the cases can also help both sides learn about the strength and value of the claims, which can make it easier to settle many cases. This starts with a series of “bellwether trials”–cases chosen by the parties to try early in the process to test the waters. So far, the injured service members have won all but one of the bellwether trials, and juries have awarded millions of dollars in damages.
What Compensation is Available for 3M Earplug Hearing Loss?
The exact damages available to a service member who suffered tinnitus or hearing loss after using the 3M earplugs varies. The value of a claim will depend on factors such as:
- How serious the condition is
- How clearly the injury can be tied to the use of 3M earplugs
- The age of the service member when the injury was sustained
Generally, damages in this type of case may include compensation for medical and other costs related to the injury, compensation for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses, and compensation for lost income or reduced earning capacity. In at least one 3M earplug case, the jury also awarded punitive damages.
Punitive damages aren’t intended as compensation for the plaintiff’s losses. Instead, they are like a penalty assessed against the defendant when the jury determines that the defendant’s conduct was so bad that additional damages are warranted. Punitive damages serve two purposes: to punish the defendant, and to protect society by discouraging the defendant and others from engaging in similar behavior in the future.
The best source of specific information about the types of damages you may be entitled to is an attorney with experience in product liability litigation and knowledge of the 3M earplug litigation.
How Long Does a 3M Earplug Case Take?
How long it takes to resolve a hearing loss or tinnitus related claim against 3M will depend in part on how the bellwether cases proceed. The 3M litigation is the largest MDL in history, with hundreds of thousands of cases to resolve. Obviously, taking all of those cases to trial would be a very slow process. That’s why the parties often take the information they gather during the bellwether trials and use it to craft settlements.
With the large number of claims involved, 3M has a lot at risk and has so far resisted settlement. But, that may change soon, if the trend of verdicts in favor of the injured service members continues.
What Should I Do If I Suffered Hearing Loss or Tinnitus after Using 3M Earplugs in the Military?
You may be entitled to compensation if you:
- Were a member of the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015, and
- Used the standard-issue 3M Combat Arms Earplugs (Version 2) during your military service, and
- Have since been diagnosed with hearing loss or tinnitus
Your time to file a claim may be limited, so if you believe your hearing has been affected or you suffer from tinnitus as a result of 3M earplugs issued by the U.S. military during that time period, you should talk to an attorney as soon as possible.
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Four trials in the massive multi-district litigation (MDL) against 3M in connection with earplugs supplied to the military have wrapped, and a fifth is scheduled to begin October 18. Though 3M continues to deny any wrongdoing and to defend each case, three of four...
Multi-district litigation (MDL) can move slowly, and that risk is even greater with a massive pool of plaintiffs. The 3M Combat Arms Earplugs (Version 2) litigation is currently the largest MDL in U.S. history. But, earlier this fall, U.S. District Court Judge M....