By Shannon Lawlor
U.S. troops use trusted gear to ensure their safety on the battlefield and in service. But what happens when the gear they’re using is faulty? The 3M earplug lawsuit is a prime example of the long-term effects of a problematic product. One defective product produced by Aearo Technologies, a 3M unit, led to one of the largest multidistrict litigations in U.S. history.

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3M Earplug Lawsuit: The Beginning

3M’s unit, Aearo Technologies, crafted combat earplugs. These earplugs were distributed to and used by service members for 15 years to protect their hearing while they served. U.S. troops are routinely exposed to noise levels that reach 150 decibels. This extended and up-close exposure can cause permanent hearing damage or hearing loss, especially when exposed to the sound for prolonged periods of time. The 3M earplug product was trusted by service members to provide the proper protection, but over the past few years, service members began to come forward with complaints about hearing issues resulting from faulty earplug protection. It was found that the earplugs were basically too short. The short length of the earplugs made it impossible to properly insert the earplug into the ear canal. Without proper placement in the ear, the earplug could not effectively block out sound. So, service members who used the earplugs were not in proper gear for their protection.

“Dangerously Defective” 3M Earplugs: The Long-Term Impact

The 3M combat earplugs have allegedly impacted the lives of current and former service members. Health complications have arisen from inadequate hearing protection. U.S. troops claim the 3M combat earplugs are “dangerously defective” in NBC News reports. Complications that have been reported in the lawsuits include:
  • Hearing loss
  • Tinnitus
Tinnitus is a ringing, clicking, roaring, hissing, or buzzing in the ear. It can occur in one or both ears and is a tell-tale sign that there’s an issue with the auditory system. Noise-induced hearing loss is one way someone can develop tinnitus. Military members and Veterans have reported this symptom as a long-term impact of using the faulty earplugs for protection. They’ve also reported hearing loss.

3M Earplug Lawsuit Settlement

Allegations were initially made against 3M several years ago when it was initially discovered that the products were too short to adequately fit all users. 3M was accused of knowingly distributing a faulty product. The product in question was the dual-ended combat arms earplugs. Documents from the early 2000s showed that Aearo Technologies tested the product and found problems with the length of the earplugs. Tests proved that the earplugs could loosen in place and were too short to fit all users. Although they claimed to, the company never informed the military of this in writing. In 2018, 3M struck a settlement of $9.1 million with the Department of Justice to remedy the allegations. 3M never admitted to any wrongdoing. Fast forward several years, and 3M is still finding itself wrapped up in legal ramifications.

3M Earplug Lawsuit Updates

It’s been about three years since the start of the litigation for the faulty 3M combat earplugs. This has turned into one of the biggest multidistrict litigations in U.S. history. Ten trials were lost for 3M. The most recent case, which occurred in May 2022, saw 13 plaintiffs awarded $300 million in judgments against the company. They did prevail with six trials, but there are around 250,000 more 3M earplug lawsuits. Payouts have yet to occur. Instead, 3M is planning to appeal some of the cases they lost. 3M is creating a $1 billion trust for service members who were affected by the faulty products, but plaintiffs’ counsel for those involved in the litigation have stated the trust is not an “efficient or equitable resolution.” The trust would only net an amount of $5,000 for each plaintiff. Aearo Technologies is planning to file for bankruptcy which is how they will be resolving claims. Plaintiffs plan to challenge the legality of the bankruptcy, as bankruptcy would slow down the settlement process. The amount of payouts will also most likely be lower. The 3M earplug lawsuit has highlighted major issues in the distribution of faulty products. U.S. troops trusted the 3M earplugs. Lawsuit after lawsuit showed that long-term effects of using the product were detrimental to service members’ hearing and overall health, and the affected service men and women are doing their best to hold the company accountable.

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Image: Charles E Boyk | YouTube



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