3M Earplugs Lawsuit | Hearing Loss, Tinnitus Claims
If you used earplugs manufactured by 3M while serving in the military and suffered a severe hearing impairment, you may be eligible to file a 3M earplugs lawsuit. You may qualify to receive a settlement to compensate you for the losses related to your damaged hearing. Time limits do apply to these cases, so finding out if you qualify for legal relief right away can be critical to your case.
There is no risk or cost to you to determine whether you or a loved one qualifies for compensation. You can learn more about the eligibility requirements for the 3M earplugs lawsuit and what steps to take next if you meet those requirements. This process may allow you to get compensation for your hearing loss, tinnitus, or other hearing-related damage.
What is the problem with the 3M military earplugs?
From 2003 to 2015, 3M annually provided about 15,000 packages of earplugs to the military. Each package contained 50 sets of earplugs. Over a 12-year-period, that amounts to nine million pairs of earplugs — all of which had defects that 3M knew about and chose to conceal.
The shortened stems on the 3M Combat Arms earplugs caused the earplugs not to fit properly in the ears of some service members.
This poor fit also caused the earplugs to slowly loosen from the ear canal and even fall out altogether. These ill-fitting earplugs obviously could not perform their essential function of safeguarding the hearing of soldiers.
Legal help for injured soldiers
When people suffer injuries from using a consumer product, they may have a legal claim against the product designer, manufacturer, and distributor, among others. Companies have a legal duty to develop products that are safe for consumer use. When they fail to do so, injured parties may have a product liability claim against those companies.
Similarly, the allegations that 3M furnished defective earplugs to the U.S. government for use by the military forms the basis for a product liability claim.
Discovery of internal 3M documents revealed during these lawsuits shows that 3M had knowledge of the defects in the earplugs yet failed to advise the military of the defects. For instance, although 3M had tested the earplugs for safety while being worn in one configuration, service members were instructed to use them in a different configuration.
Injured soldiers claim that 3M knew that their earplugs were defective and would not protect the hearing of military personnel. Nonetheless, 3M moved ahead with its exclusive U.S. government contract, which caused the distribution of defective earplugs to thousands of service members.
If you or a loved one meets all the eligibility requirements, you may have a product liability claim against 3M. You may qualify to receive compensation for your hearing loss or tinnitus due to the failure of the 3M earplugs to protect your hearing. By getting legal advice about your situation, you can determine whether you are eligible for this form of legal relief.
3M earplug lawsuit verdicts
Two trials have resulted in large verdicts for the plaintiffs, or the injured soldiers who filed suit:
- On May 9, 2021, a federal jury in Florida awarded $7.1 million to three servicemen who suffered hearing loss after using 3M earplugs. The verdict included $2.1 million in punitive damages.
- On June 7, 2021, a Florida jury awarded a soldier $1.7 million in damages, but found him to be 38% at fault, therefore reducing his award to $1.1 million.
3M agreed to a settlement in the False Claims Act lawsuit
In 2015, soldiers began recognizing the defects in the 3M dual-ended combat arms earplugs, and the federal government terminated its exclusive contract with 3M for the earplugs. Next, in 2016, a private party acting as whistleblower for the federal government took legal action against 3M by filing suit under the False Claims Act.
This federal law makes companies, who are usually federal government contractors, liable for defrauding the U.S. government.
The whistleblower claimed in its lawsuit that 3M was aware of the defects in the 3M earplugs that would cause them to be less effective than represented. They alleged that 3M took the following actions when it entered an exclusive contract with the U.S. government to provide the military with the defective earplugs:
- 3M knew the earplugs were defective and would not perform as intended
- 3M failed to disclose the defect in the earplugs
- 3M hid or falsified test results that would have revealed the defect
Ultimately, 3M agreed to settle the False Claims Act lawsuit by paying the federal government $9.1 million. 3M also had to pay the whistleblower $1,911,000. However, the settlement did not require 3M to admit that it had committed any wrongdoing in the matter.
In other words, it did not admit to any of the allegations in the lawsuit regarding the earplugs.
Value of a 3M earplug lawsuit
The value of a 3M earplug lawsuit is unknown. Various factors can influence the settlement in mass tort lawsuits like those involving the 3M earplugs, and many factors are still unknown. As more trials go forward and jury verdicts result, you are likely to have a better sense of the outcome of any settlement in these cases.
You might also wonder about paying for legal representation in your 3M earplug lawsuit. Most law firms take these types of cases on a contingent-fee basis. As a result, you pay no legal fees up front to get started on your case.
In fact, you pay no legal fees while your case is going on. You pay legal fees only when there has been a settlement or jury verdict at the resolution of your case. Paying legal fees should never be a barrier for injury victims to seek justice and compensation for their injuries through the legal system.
Who is eligible to file 3M earplug lawsuits?
You may be eligible to file a 3M earplug lawsuit if you meet the following conditions:
- You served in any branch of the U.S. military.
- Your military service occurred from 2003 to 2015.
- You used the dual-sided 3M Combat Arms earplugs.
- You were exposed to loud sounds during your military service.
- You suffered hearing loss or tinnitus during your military service.
You can be either a U.S. veteran or a current U.S. military member and still be eligible to file a claim against 3M. However, if you are currently serving in the military, you must ensure that your hearing loss or tinnitus is well documented in your medical records.
Disability status and eligibility to file suit
Some individuals who have suffered hearing loss or tinnitus are disabled by their injuries. As a result, they may receive full or partial VA disability benefits. Your VA disability rating, however, does not determine whether you are eligible to file a lawsuit against 3M.
Even if you have a zero disability rating, your hearing loss or tinnitus may still have a significant negative impact on your life. You still may be eligible to seek compensation from 3M for your hearing problems if you meet all other eligibility criteria.
Dual-ended combat arms earplugs were too short
3M contracted with the U.S. government to design, manufacture, and provide special ear protection for all four branches of the U.S. military. The dual-sided 3M Combat Arms earplugs were specially made to allow soldiers to adjust and optimize hearing under different conditions in combat zones, as follows:
- One side allowed soldiers to totally block very high-level, loud noises.
- The other side allowed soldiers to still be able to hear low-level, quieter sounds that were nearby with limited interruptions, such as verbal commands, while blocking out more damaging sounds.
The stems on the earplugs ultimately proved to be too short for the ears of soldiers. This problem led to the soldiers being unable to properly insert the earplugs. Additionally, the earplugs eventually would loosen and work their way out of their ears, therefore failing to block the damaging sounds as intended.
The Combat Arms earplugs that 3M produced originally were too large to fit into the earplug carrying case that accompanied them, making it inconvenient for soldiers to carry them. The earplugs also interfered with helmets fitting correctly for some soldiers. These problems caused 3M to shorten the stems of the combat earplugs.
Shortening the stems of the earplugs caused even larger problems for thousands of service members using them. The earplug stems were not long enough to properly fit into the ears of some soldiers. The earplugs also could loosen slightly during wearing, thus weakening the high-level hearing protection that they were supposed to provide.
In some cases, the military earplugs fell out altogether. In other cases, the earplugs became loose enough to break the airtight seal meant to keep sound out. Ultimately, usage of the earplugs led to hearing loss and tinnitus for many soldiers that they could have avoided by using earplugs that were not defective.
3M’s military earplugs caused hearing loss in servicemembers
Aearo Technologies originally developed Combat Arms earplugs, which were specially designed to protect the hearing of U.S. service members in all branches of the military. 3M purchased Aearo in 2008, along with the exclusive contract with the U.S. government to provide earplugs to the military. 3M is therefore responsible for the defects in the earplugs, both before and after its purchase of Aearo in 2008.
The earplugs were defective in that they failed to protect the soldiers from hearing loss as intended. Soldiers in war zones often experience high-decibel noises that cause hearing loss and related damages, such as:
Repeated exposure to these loud noises leads to permanent hearing loss, tinnitus or ringing in the ears, and other hearing-related problems. To avoid these problems, the U.S. included 3M combat earplugs as standard equipment hearing protection for every soldier in all four military branches. Despite the best efforts of the U.S. government to protect the military, 3M knowingly provided the military with a defective product that caused harm to thousands of soldiers.
Soldiers face lifelong hearing loss
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), hearing problems, including hearing loss and tinnitus, is by far the most common service-related disability among U.S. veterans. An estimated 1.3 million veterans receive disability compensation from the VA for hearing loss, and another 2.3 million veterans receive disability compensation from the VA for tinnitus.
It is especially common among military service members who served in combat zones, such as:
Some veterans with hearing loss may benefit from surgery, medication, or implants. However, other former military personnel have permanent hearing loss that hearing aids may help, but not eliminate.
Hearing problems also can lead to problems with speech. Auditory processing disorder, in which veterans can pass hearing tests but have a hard time understanding speech, also can result from hearing damage from military service.
The Veterans Administration (VA) regularly treats veterans for hearing loss, tinnitus, and more. Veterans may receive VA disability benefits in part or in full due to their hearing problems. The consequences of hearing loss can be permanent and devastating.
Service members are at a risk of hearing loss as a part of their duties, which is why the federal government furnished them with special earplugs. 3M knew the defective earplugs did not work, and knowingly put service members at risk. Due to the potential severity of hearing loss and the purposely harmful conduct of 3M, the damages that you may receive from an earplug lawsuit against 3M could be significant.
What is the value of a 3M military earplugs lawsuit?
The settlement in any hearing loss case, including the 3M combat earplug cases, varies widely from one case to the next. Hearing loss and other damages are not insignificant. Individuals may be unable to continue serving in the military due to hearing loss or unable to work in other careers after discharge from the military.
Some of the other factors that may impact a settlement in a personal injury case involving hearing loss may include:
- The extent and severity of the hearing loss or damage
- The impact of the hearing loss or damage on your ability to work
- The ability to successfully treat your hearing loss or damage
- The permanency of the hearing loss or damage
While some treatments, implants, or hearing aid devices may improve hearing loss or damage, hearing loss ultimately is permanent. As a result, settlement values must reflect the permanency of the injuries, which likely would be higher than a settlement value of a temporary or curable injury. However, every case is different, so the settlement offer that one individual receives may be higher or lower than what another individual receives.
The importance of getting treatment for hearing loss
Hearing loss or tinnitus is the kind of disability or impairment that is not immediately apparent to others. While others can easily tell that a person who cannot walk or who is missing a limb is disabled, it is not so easy to demonstrate hearing loss and related damages. So, soldiers affected by hearing loss and related issues must have medical documentation of their impairments.
Getting medical treatment for their hearing problems can be crucial to proving eligibility for compensation in a 3M earplugs lawsuit. Without concrete medical proof, jurors may assume that you are able to function normally without any problems, despite your claimed disability. This is just one example of the type of evidence that is necessary to present in this type of lawsuit.
Likewise, you must provide evidence showing how your hearing loss, tinnitus, or auditory processing disorder affects your daily life. You can explain the details as to how the impairment affects you, both personally and professionally.
For instance, your hearing loss may make it impossible for you to continue serving in the military, and also may make you unable to work in some other occupations.
Next steps in the 3M earplug lawsuits
The next 3M earplug lawsuit is scheduled for trial on September 22, 2021. The following trial is scheduled for November 2021. Meanwhile, the judge handling the multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Florida federal district court has scheduled an additional six cases for trial on dates ranging from November 2021 to February 2022.
Furthermore, the judge has identified the first “wave” of MDL cases to be moved to the active docket of the court. As a result, about 1,500 of the over 250,000 pending cases will receive deadlines and hearing dates as their parties prepare for trial. Subsequent waves of MDL cases could include as many as 20,000 cases.
Meanwhile, another 1,000 cases are still pending in state court in Minnesota. These cases, too, are likely to start going to trial. Therefore, 3M will have trial dates coming up soon in both federal and state court.
The pressure on the 3M company to settle the earplug lawsuits continues to build for a variety of reasons. The reasons that may make a settlement more imminent include:
- The 3M earplug suits make up the largest mass tort MDL in history.
- The judge handling the MDL is aggressively moving thousands of cases to the active court docket and setting trial dates.
- More bellwether cases are scheduled for trial in the next few months.
- Four out of five soldiers have won substantial jury verdicts against 3M in the suits that have gone to trial so far.
No one can predict how or when 3M will start settling cases. As pressure from all directions continues, however, settlement becomes more and more likely. Only time will tell how long it takes for a settlement to finally occur.
Learn more about your eligibility for compensation in a 3M earplug lawsuit
If you or a loved one suffered hearing loss or tinnitus after serving in the military between 2003 and 2015, you may have fallen victim to the defective 3M combat earplugs.
You may be able to pursue a 3M earplugs lawsuit and seek compensation for your injuries. Fill out our contact form today for help with your case or to learn how you can hold the manufacturer accountable.
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