According to a recent lawsuit filed by a former U.S. Marine, 3M and its Aearo Technologies LLC subsidiary falsified test results in order to sell defective earplugs to the military for a multi-million dollar per-year contract. Although 3M discontinued selling the defective earplugs in 2015 due to a design defect, the company never issued a recall for them.
In 1993, Kevin Doyle enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and later joined the army as a certified weapons instructor. Before joining the military, Doyle reportedly had no signs or symptoms of hearing loss or other ear-related injuries.
Between 2003 and 2010, Doyle was issued dual-ended 3M Combat Arms earplugs for training, on deployment to the Middle East, and while serving as a certified weapons instructor. In 2014, Doyle was diagnosed with bilateral tinnitus and hearing loss in his right ear.
“Based on the supposed technological design and qualities of the Combat Arms Earplugs, (Defendants won) a series of Indefinite-Quantity Contracts (ICQs) to be the exclusive supplier of selective attenuation earplugs to the U.S. military between 2003 and 2012,” Doyle’s lawsuit states. “To win these ICQs Defendants represented that the Combat Arms Earplugs would meet specific performance criteria established by the U.S. Government as a prerequisite for bidding on the IQC for earplugs.”
Doyle’s lawsuit alleges that both 3M and Aearo knew the earplugs were defective and deliberately falsified test results in order to acquire the multi-million dollar per-year military contract. Because the defect was imperceptible to the wearer, the design flaw went undetected for more than a decade by the U.S. military and those who wore the earplugs.
In 2015, the U.S. Army reported: “So while many Soldiers have been labeled non-deployable because of hearing loss, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, spends more than $1 billion in compensation per year to treat hearing loss for more than 800,000 veterans. Data collected by the VA shows as many as 52 percent of combat Soldiers have moderately severe hearing loss or worse, mostly because of the loud sounds associated with combat.”
Last year, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations brought by the Justice Department. The settlement resolved allegations that 3M violated the False Claims Act by selling or causing to be sold defective earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency.
Specifically, the United States alleged that 3M, and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, Inc., knew the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) were too short for proper insertion into users’ ears and that the earplugs could loosen imperceptibly and therefore did not perform well for certain individuals. The United States further alleged that 3M did not disclose this design defect to the military.
Earlier this year, hundreds of U.S. veterans filed lawsuits against 3M for designing the defective earplugs and failing to warn users of the defect or provide proper instructions for their use. The defective earplugs allegedly resulted in hearing loss, tinnitus, and loss of balance in servicemembers who used 3M’s trademarked, dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs during their military service between 2003 and 2015.