Between 2003 and 2015, the United States Military distributed 3M earplugs (model CAEv2) to servicemen and servicewomen serving in combat zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, nearly a quarter of a million service members who used the earplugs struggle with hearing loss related to their time in combat. The earplugs were faulty. 3M knew that a design defect caused the earplugs to come loose, and attempted to create a quick fix solution that didn’t actually solve the problem.
During combat, ear protection is essential for members of the armed forces. Their ears are vulnerable to jet engines, bombs, gunfire, and other damaging sounds. It doesn’t take long for hearing loss to begin after exposure to loud noises, and hearing loss can continue even after exposure to loud sounds.
The resulting lawsuit is shaping up to be the largest consumer mass tort case of all time, beating out cases against Roundup and prescription painkillers. Service members allege that 3M’s faulty earplugs caused the hearing loss they struggle with today, and the mass tort suit is working to provide them with the compensation they deserve for what is likely to be a lifetime of damaged hearing.
A mass tort case is different from a class action lawsuit. In a class action lawsuit, plaintiffs file against an organization or company, and all plaintiffs get the same payout. A mass tort case is different. Individuals file against several individuals–payouts are congruent with the severity of the injury of each plaintiff.
Experts estimate that up to 800,000 service members will come forward in the mass tort case against 3M, making it the largest mass tort case of all time. Given the severity of injuries, the number of injuries, and the number of plaintiffs, it’s likely that many plaintiffs will see a large payout from 3M for compensation for their injuries.
3M bought Aearo Technologies, the original manufacturer of the earplugs, in 2007 for $1.2 billion. The mass tort case alleges that 3M knew that Aearo’s earplugs were defective, as the earplugs came loose for no reason, leaving ears vulnerable to loud noises. According to the lawsuit, 3M created a quick fix for the problem that allowed them to secure a long-term contract with the U.S. government.
3M failed to warn the military of the defect, and servicemembers experienced both tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss after using the earplugs in combat zones.
The suit alleges that 3M knew that the earplug use instructions wouldn't provide maximum protection. During a deposition, Timothy McNamara, 3M’s U.S. Midwest sales manager, was asked whether soldiers should have been informed that the way they needed to use the earplugs to achieve a high noise reduction level was different from the provided instructions. He didn’t “believe so.” McNamara visited military bases often and stated that he didn’t share how to use the earplugs.
This mass tort case matters for several reasons: 3M needs to take responsibility for their wrongdoing, and provide compensation for service members who will now experience lifelong hearing loss due to their negligence. Also, this case sets a precedent for future companies that work with the military. The health of service members, not a company’s profit, needs to be top priority.
For military spouses like me, each day can be a surprise. We don’t always know where we’re going to move next. We don't know when our spouses will deploy, or whether they’ll be here for birthdays and holidays. We chose this life, and we’ve come to expect that we don’t always know what’s around the corner.
With all the uncertainty in our lives, we should be able to depend on one thing: that the companies working with the government are acting in good faith. Government contractors need to work toward keeping our service members safe. When our spouses are risking their lives to keep the country safe, they shouldn’t have to worry about the performance of government-issued equipment.
Life as a military spouse is hard enough, and the idea that a company would knowingly provide the military with anything less than grade-A equipment is devastating. Service members who used these earplugs deserve compensation. While compensation won’t fix hearing loss, it can provide the money needed for hearing loss therapy and other bills they'll encounter over time due to the health effects of using faulty earplugs in a combat zone.
A mass tort case against 3M sends a strong message to other companies that want to work with the U.S. military: quality matters. Prioritizing the safety of service members matters. Companies that try to quick-fix equipment to secure a government contract will pay for their negligence. Hopefully, this mass tort suit will give every service member affected by 3M’s lack of integrity the compensation that they deserve.
If you or a loved one served in a combat zone between 2003 and 2015 and experienced ringing in the ears or hearing loss after using 3M earplugs, there’s still time to join the mass tort suit and explore whether you’re entitled to compensation.
3M has already settled with the U.S. government, and now, it’s time for service members to get the money they deserve for their injuries and suffering. Take our free case evaluation below to find out if you may be entitled to compensation.
Hearing loss is very common as we age - in fact, one in three people will experience hearing loss after the age of 65, according to Mayo Clinic. But younger people can also experience hearing loss, due to accidents or long-term exposure to loud noises.
Since hearing loss is often irreversible, it can be a difficult transition for the person and their family to manage. However, there are many ways that you can show support for your loved one as you take on an adjusted way of life.
There are different levels of hearing loss, ranging from mild (you can hear but the sounds are muffled) to profound (you cannot hear anything, except for perhaps very loud sounds). It can also affect one ear, both, or one more than the other.
There are many ways that people can experience hearing loss:
Something is stopping the sound from reaching the middle ear. This can be the result of an ear infection, a foreign object in the ear, earwax buildup, or the inner ear not forming properly, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. In these cases, hearing loss may only be temporary and can be fixed with medicine or surgery.
The most common cause of hearing loss, this is when there is an issue with the inner ear and/or the hearing nerves. It can be caused by illnesses, aging, injuries, listening to loud noises, and even hereditary hearing loss.Â
In fact, hearing loss is the No. 1 service-related medical issue that veterans encounter. As of September 2020, more than 200,000 3M Earplug Lawsuits have been filed against 3M, the company that manufactures earplugs meant to protect your ears from loud and high-pitched noises from combat arms.
A combination of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. For example, someone could be losing their hearing due to ongoing exposure to loud noises and also have a build up of earwax.
Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder
In this case, the sound is not interpreted properly by the ear and the brain is not able to organize what it is hearing. Researchers believe this might be the result of damage to the inner hair cells, auditory neurons, or a genetic predisposition, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
"Communication is key, but if one person is unable to hear properly, it can lead to unintentional misunderstandings and hurt feelings."
Hearing loss doesn’t just impact the person experiencing it - it affects the people around them as well.
Communication is key, but if one person is unable to hear properly, it can lead to unintentional misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It can also be frustrating to constantly ask people to repeat themselves, or to have to reiterate requests over and over.
Everyday activities like walking around town or cooking can become nerve-wracking for someone with hearing loss and also worry their loved ones. What if they don’t hear a car coming, or can’t hear the fire alarm going off?
Someone with hearing loss might feel left out and withdraw if they consistently don’t understand the conversations going on around them. It can also be hurtful to the family to see their loved one retreat.
Since the person with hearing loss can’t hear themselves, they may not speak as clearly as they used to. For children with hearing loss, they can experience a delay in learning to speak since they have difficulty hearing certain sounds.
If you or a loved one has hearing loss, there are plenty of ways to adapt so that everyone is able to still enjoy their time together:
While it might be frustrating to repeat yourself, recognize that the person is not doing this on purpose â€” they simply cannot hear you! Take the time to learn which side is better for you to speak to, what volume is best, and if there are environments where it is more difficult for them to hear.
How you communicate with someone with hearing loss will have to change. Say the person’s name to get their attention, face them when you speak, and don’t start the conversation from another room. Do not shout at the person â€” if there is a sound that they’re having a hard time hearing, try another word instead. Using gestures can also help.
Meeting other people with hearing loss or who love someone with hearing loss can help create a sense of community and let you know that you are not alone. You might also learn tips that work for them to incorporate into your daily life.
Learning sign language
American Sign Language (ASL) is the fifth most used language in the United States, and 90 percent of people born with hearing loss have hearing parents, according to Health Hearing. If this is going to be an important mode of communication for someone, it’s not only easier but also supportive for family and friends to also learn ASL. It is also a big part of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community’s culture, so it’s a great way to show you accept them for who they are.
Between 2003 and 2015, 3M sold earplugs called Combat Arms Earplug Version 2 to the United States Military. As of September 2020, over 200,000 service members have joined one of the largest consumer mass tort lawsuits ever, alleging that 3M’s earplugs were faulty and led to hearing loss.
The alleged problem with the earplugs was that they did not provide a proper protective seal, allowing dangerously loud sounds to reach the ear and damage hearing. This left service members vulnerable to repeated loud noises such as gunfire, jet engines, tanks, and more.
The hearing loss and damage behind the 3M earplug lawsuit is increasingly becoming a public health problem, as more and more veterans are reporting hearing loss and associated conditions.
From trouble hearing female voices to incessant tinnitus (ringing in the ears), service members who wore 3M’s earplugs are facing devastating hearing damage.
In 2009, the National Defense Authorization Act mandated the creation of a Hearing Center of Excellence to address the growing problem of hearing loss among veterans. In fact, hearing injury is the most common medical issue for veterans. This is such a pervasive problem that veterans don’t even need a referral from their primary care physician to get an appointment with a VA audiologist.
According to the Military Health System, “The center’s primary responsibilities have been to develop a data registry to track hearing loss and auditory injuries across the armed forces, facilitate hearing health research, develop best practices and clinical education, and help to enable Department of Veterans Affairs rehabilitation benefits and services to former service members.”
The simple fact that there was a need for this center supports the idea that hearing loss among veterans is a public health problem that was only made worse by 3M’s faulty earplugs.
“More than 1.7 million veterans receive compensation for tinnitus and more than 1.1 million veterans get it for hearing loss,”
This is no small number, and according to the CDC, veterans are 30% more likely to develop hearing loss. This is a problem: the men and women who willingly protect the country are often left permanently disabled, and the problems don’t stop with having trouble hearing.
Hearing loss alone requires many medical resources; some hearing impairment can be reversed, but it’s often permanent. This means affected service members will require medical care and devices such as hearing aids for the rest of their lives. To make matters worse, hearing tends to naturally decline as we age, which means this may only continue to get worse.
In addition to the direct and obvious consequences, hearing loss and tinnitus have other possible side effects, including:
Hearing loss has even been linked to dementia. Suffering these side effects is extremely frustrating, particularly when you know it could have been prevented with a properly designed earplug.
This begs the question: Is the country equipped to help all these people both financially and with good resources? The medical system is tasked with not only treating hearing loss itself, but also associated conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD, and dementia. The evidence is pretty clear: living with hearing loss isn’t easy.
Unfortunately, the problem is far from over as cases of hearing loss due to 3M’s earplugs may continue to emerge. For many service members, it’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that they have hearing loss, and people don’t like the stigma of wearing a hearing aid, particularly if they’re younger. This can cause some of those affected to delay seeking care.
Currently, the 3M earplug lawsuits are expected to go to trial in 2021, meaning no service member has yet received compensation for their injuries. This also means that if you have been affected by 3M’s Combat Arms Earplug Version 2, you still have time to join 3M earplug lawsuits.
Even those who have been hesitant to seek care and confirmation of their hearing loss can begin the process now and hold this company accountable. The current number of 2.7 million veterans who get disability benefits for hearing loss and/or tinnitus is likely to grow as more service members develop hearing impairment and seek help.
As the 3M earplug lawsuit moves through the justice system, it may become apparent just how many people were affected and how much of a toll it will put on the healthcare system. As more and more people come forward and seek care, VA medical centers and community hospitals may see an influx of patients needing care for hearing loss. As time goes on, these same patients may also begin to seek care for associated conditions like anxiety or PTSD.
Hearing loss is a top concern for military veterans. In fact, it’s the #1 service-related medical issue, with more veterans suffering from hearing loss than traumatic brain injury or even PTSD. (more…)
When you sign up to protect and serve the United States of America by enlisting in the Armed Forces, you inherently understand that there are risks involved. (more…)
We are here to help you and loved ones advocate for justice. Feel free to send us any questions you might have, either about an injury or the process for pursuing justice so we can help you exercise your rights.