Thousands of veterans and current military service members may be entitled to financial compensation for hearing loss and tinnitus caused by defective earplugs. The Combat Arms Earplugs were manufactured and sold by 3M to all 4 branches of the U.S. military.
How many people? 3Ms dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs may have caused thousands, if not millions, of our soldiers to suffer hearing loss and tinnitus, and the pain and suffering that comes with these conditions.
[March 2020 update: The MDL judge reported last month a mind-blowing 139,693 claimants registered in MDL Centrality in connection with the 3M litigation. These cases were moving quickly and plaintiffs' lawyers were excited about how they were developing. But the coronavirus is slowing it down now just like everything else.]
Typical victims are veterans between the ages of 30 and 49 who served in the Army and allege a combination of tinnitus and hearing loss. Our law firm is getting calls, web inquires, and emails from victims with hearing issues seven days a week about these claims. In the 3M CAEv2 earplug lawsuits, it's our turn as lawyers to fight for the same brave men and women that have fought to protect us all.
3M is the St. Paul based manufacturer and seller of an earplug called Combat Arms. They were originally developed by Aearo Technologies, a company 3M bought in 2008. This makes 3M liable for conduct both before and after 2008.
Thousands of soldiers suffered complete or partial hearing loss and tinnitus because of faulty combat ear plugs. Combat Arms Earplugs left the user entirely unprotected from damaging high-level sounds. Our lawyers are handling these cases.
Combat Arms uses a sound channel with constrictions and openings to produce a non-linear sound attenuation effect. The idea of Combat Arms earplugs was that people exposed to loud noises could set the earplug to a second, closed mode of operation by inserting a plug into the channel. In this mode, the earplugs function like a normal fully blocked earplug.
When worn by a military member in the open or unblocked position, the earplugs are intended to significantly reduce, loud impulse sounds of battlefield explosions that can harm the inner ear yet still allow the wearer to hear quieter noises such as instructions or an approaching enemy.
From 2003 to 2015 the 3M earplug were standard issue equipment intended to protect service members from hearing loss. 3M had an exclusive contract with U.S. military via the U.S. Department of Defense. The company admitted, however, that the earplugs were defective and actually did nothing to protect soldiers from significant hearing loss, subjecting them to the risk of deafness.
This means that anyone who served in the military from 2003 to 2015 and suffered permanent hearing damage has a potential product liability lawsuit against the earplug manufacturer. The Combat Arms Earplugs were also sold to the general public. This means potential plaintiffs will also include people like police officers, industry workers, or others who relied on 3M's defective earplugs for protection.
U.S. service members are often exposed to very loud noises from things like aircraft, artillery, guns, and explosives. Without some sort of ear protection, exposure to these types of high-level of noises on a regular basis will cause internal damage to the eardrums. Internal damage to the eardrums causes tinnitus - a wildly aggravating buzzing, hissing or ringing in the ears - and partial or total loss of hearing.
The Combat Arms Earplugs (Version 2) were advanced foam earplugs that were supposed to protect users by filtering peak level noises. They were developed by Aearo Technologies who eventually sold their company to 3M. The 3m earplugs were dual-sided. One side went into the ear to dampen peak level sound waves from things like ordinance fire and explosives. The other side of the earplug was designed to sit just outside the ear canal to act as a filter blocking continuous high-level noises from things like aircraft and vehicles.
Unfortunately, the Combat Arms Earplugs had a design defect that rendered them completely ineffective at blocking sound for some users. The problem with the Combat Arms Earplugs is that side that was supposed to fit into the users' ear canal was not the right length and was not properly shaped.
As a result of this subtle design flaw, the earplugs did not properly fit into the ear canal. Almost immediately after the plugs were inserted into the ear they would loosen leaving the user entirely unprotected from damaging high-level sounds that were bound to cause many significant hearing problems.
What made this problem worse is that users frequently did not even realize that the earplugs were loose. Many service members wore the defective Combat Arms earplugs on a daily basis for years not realizing that they did not have the proper insertion to protect the users' ears from inner ear damage.3M Knew the Earplugs Were Defective
3M was apparently aware that the duel-ended Combat Arms earplugs were defectively designed but failed to disclose this to the military.
In 2018, a federal whistleblower lawsuit was brought the Combat Arms Earplugs. This False Claims Act case established that the company was fully aware of the subtle design flaw in the earplugs and deliberately withheld this information. The company ultimately agreed to settle the legal action with the United States Justice Department. Although the settlement is not an admission of liability, the following facts regarding this whistleblower lawsuit were fairly well supported:
- The design of the Combat Arms Earplugs was defective
- The company was aware of the product defect and understood that it could cause users to suffer hearing loss
- 3M never told the military or warned users about the design defect
On top of that, the 3M company did not recall for the defective Combat Arms Earplugs after the federal government settlement. Instead, they simply chose to discontinue selling the earplugs. Does this tell you anything?
Thousands of military service members may have permanent hearing damage as a result of 3M's failure to disclose the design defect with the Combat Arms Earplugs. For 12 years countless military personnel exposed themselves to extreme noise levels thinking that their Combat Arms Earplugs were protecting them. Most of those individuals were not being protected at all by the defective earplugs and ended up suffering permanent loss of hearing. These individuals can now sue 3M and demand financial compensation.Civilian Hearing Injury Plaintiffs
3M's Combat Arms Earplugs were not exclusively used by the military. The defective earplugs were also sold to the public and to law enforcement and other industries. Hundreds of police officers and sportsman relied on the Combat Arms Earplugs to protect their hearing at the target range or training ground. These individuals were equally unaware of the design flaw and may have suffered hearing damage from using the earplugs. These individuals are also entitled to bring claims against 3M. Our law firm, however, is focused on military personnel.Potential Settlement Value of Combat Arms Lawsuits
The litigation regarding the defective Combat Arms Earplugs are just starting to get filed, so we are still in the early stages of understanding how much Combat Arms cases will be worth. We can look at hearing loss damages awarded in other types of cases to get a general sense of the potential settlement value of the earplug cases.
Below are recent jury verdicts and reported settlements amounts in other cases in which the primary injury was tinnitus or hearing loss. Based on this small sampling of cases the average value of a claim for partial hearing impairment seems to range from $50,000 to $300,000 depending on the severity.
Lawsuits against 3M are still being filed
We believe that the average value of hearing loss claims in the Combat Arms earplug cases may be notably higher than this which could lead to larger individual payouts if these cases go to trial. Most of the sample cases below involve car accidents where settlement values are typically lower because of max limits on the applicable insurance policies. On the other hand, 3M is one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world, so there won't be any insurance limits. Moreover, the prospective victims in these cases have earned great respect from all of us. Military veterans are highly sympathetic victims and they should be.
Of course, at this point, we are all guessing about the potential settlement value of these claims. But we are bullish on them because the liability case - the ability to blame the defendant for the harm - looks to be very strong.
Here are some sample cases with similar hearing injuries as the MDL litigation. Certainly, the type of hearing loss is going to be key the individual payout in each case. Do these tell you the settlement value of the CAEv2 Combat Arms Earplug lawsuits? Of course not. They are just one source of our speculation and about the possible amount of individual settlements in these earplug cases. We really just guessing. This class action litigation is just beginning. Still, our lawyers still think it is a useful exercise.
- Madison v GEICO (Washington 2017) $63,555: The middle-aged male plaintiff gets rear-ended by a large SUV on I-5 in Seattle and claims permanent tinnitus as a result of the accident leaving him unable to fully perform his job. He settles his claim against the at-fault driver for policy limits of $25,000 and goes after his insurer, GEICO, for UIM benefits. GEICO refuses to settle and a jury ends up awarding $63,555 in total damages for the hearing injury.
- Danelin v Gretchen (Washington 2013) $83,000: An unemployed 43-year-old woman is living in a rental house when an improperly installed ceiling fan falls off and hits her in the side of the head. She suffers a temporary loss of hearing and some permanent tinnitus. She sues the landlord for premises liability and the case settles for $83,000.
- Deland v Eldridge (Tennessee 2010) $120,000: A 49-year-old mail carrier is on her delivery route when her mail truck gets rear-ended, causing her to strike the side of her head against the door. Despite minimal vehicle damage, she claims in her suit that the accident caused her to suffer small asymmetrical hearing impairment and tinnitus. She took legal action claiming that the tinnitus interferes with her ability to sleep and her normal daily activities, but the defendant disputes the extent and severity of her hearing loss. Jury awards total damages of $120,312: $30,000 for past pain and suffering; $25,000 for permanent impairment; $25,000 for future loss of ability to enjoy life; and $30,312 for past and future medical expenses.
- Vanhuess v Strickler (Utah 2009) $45,000: A 12-year-old girl allegedly suffers permanent damage to her hearing when a .357 magnum pistol accidentally discharges near her ear while she was a passenger inside a van. Liability is admitted but the defendant strongly disputes the extent of the alleged hearing damage. The victim files a lawsuit and the case goes to trial on that issue. The jury in Salt Lake City finds that girl did suffer hearing damage but not to the extent that she claimed and awarded only $45,000.
- Castle v Rude (California 2007) $231,000: A 29-year-old male recording engineer allegedly suffers tinnitus from the sound of his airbag deployment after being broadsided by the defendant at an intersection. Liability was admitted but the defense contended that the tinnitus was caused by previous exposure to loud noises, such as music, shooting guns, and driving snowmobiles. The jury agrees with the victim and awards total damages of $231,000 which only includes $11,000 for medical expenses.
On January 25, an earplug victim filed a motion asking the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to consolidate all defective earplug cases to a single federal court for coordinated pretrial proceedings.
The court granted this motion in March and the earplug cases are now consolidated in the Northern District of Florida under Judge M. Casey Rodgers. This is called an MDL, which is like a class action lawsuit for pre-trial discovery purposes. This is the first step in the hopes of a favorable global earplug lawsuit settlement with 3M that would give victims compensation without ever having to go to court.
What does it mean to you that the JPML made the decision to consolidate all of the federal earplug claims in Florida? It means that no matter where you are, your lawsuit will most likely be housed in Florida while these cases proceed through the litigation process. All you need to do is provide a small bit of information. The hope is that 3M will come to their senses as they did in the whistleblower case and offer settlements that will encourage the victims to settle their cases out-of-court long before a trial. But the per person payouts have to be high enough to entice victims to settle.
There is a fairly big day coming up in this Combat Arms Earplug MDL. There was a "Science Day" on August 26, 2019 beginning at 9:00. What is "Science Day" in an MDL? This is an opportunity for the lawyers to educate the judge on the scientific foundation for the claims and where the parties disagree. This also gave the judge an opportunity to answer questions about the science that will eventually be the subject of court rulings.
- sound properties and measurement,
- how sound is perceived by the human ear,
- the science of hearing loss,
- hearing examination protocols (including methods for causal attribution of hearing loss),
- hearing protection devices in general and their evolution over time,
- considerations regarding selection of hearing protection devices, and
- standards and procedures for testing hearing protection devices.
This gave the lawyers a better feel from the judge's questions how he views the scientific evidence in the case. In this case, the court is looking for information on where these cases are going.
There was another big development in the MDL in October 2019 is Judge Rogers appointment of U.S. District Court Judge David Herndon as a special master in the case. Judge Herndon is an extremely experienced MDL judge who presided over Pradaxa and Yaz MDL class actions that both ended in reasonable global settlements. This is a good development for everyone because it should help get these cases ripe for settlement more quickly.3M's Defense
3M is going to try to end these cases before they ever begin, arguing that all of these claims are preempted by what is known as the “Feres” doctrine. Our lawyers have looked at the applicable law and believe plaintiffs will defeat this argument.
The “Feres” doctrine arose out of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Feres v. United States. Specifically, the doctrine provides a guideline for when our servicemen and women may file a claim for personal injuries. The doctrine bars service members and civilian government employees from bringing claims against the U.S. government for injuries that arose out of or were sustained while engaged in activity “incident to service.”
That does not sound good, right? But the Supreme Court decision in Boyle v. United Technologies Corp in 1988 updates Feres and makes us feel a lot better. This case promulgates a two-part test that determines a state law can be displaced:
- The claim is one of unique federal interest; and
- There is significant conflict between “federal policy or interests and state law” or if applying the state law would “frustrate specific objectives of federal legislation”
The decision then lays out a three-part test that provides a claim is pre-empted:
- The U.S. approved reasonably precise specifications;
- The equipment conformed to those precise specifications; and
- The supplier warned the U.S. of the danger associated with the equipment that only the supplier knew of. Applying these tests, we do not think there will be any issue with preemption because although 3M knew of the defect and danger associated with using them, they never informed the U.S. military of those dangers.
3M's fatal problem is the third prong of the Boyle preemption test. Is the U.S. military really going to say that they did know of the danger but still issued the earplugs despite that knowledge? There is nothing to suggest that the military had any knowledge of the defect.Getting a Lawyer to Fight for You
If you used 3M's Combat Arms Earplugs in the military or as a civilian and have a severe hearing impairment, you may be entitled to financial compensation for your injury. Miller & Zois is currently looking for potential 3M defective earplug victims. We are getting calls every single day. Because of the statute of limitations, it is important that you reach out to a lawyer as soon as possible.
Contact us and we can investigate your case and tell you whether or not you may have a valid claim against 3M. There is not a lot required from you at this point besides filling out a 3m earplug lawsuit claim form. There is no risk or cost. We are contingency fee lawyers. Call us at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.
- Who is eligible for compensation in Combat Arms earplug litigation?