Federal Judge: 3M Must Face Plaintiffs in Military Earplugs Cases

U.S. District Court Judge M. Casey Rodgers made the first substantial ruling in thousands of cases filed against 3M for hearing damage caused by faulty earplugs. In her decision, issued Friday, July 24, Judge Rodgers found that 3M cannot use a government contractor defense to avoid accountability in court. 

The ruling is a significant victory for approximately 150,000 plaintiffs who have suffered hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) after using CAEv2 earplugs in the military. The ruling allows those mass tort cases to move forward, and paves the way for additional cases to be filed in what some legal experts believe may be the largest mass tort litigation in U.S. history.

3M settled with the U.S. government for $9.1 million after the U.S. Department of Justice held 3M accountable under the False Claims Act for selling defective Combat Arms, or CAEv2 earplugs to the military from 2008 until 2015. Prior to 2008, Aearo Technologies, Inc. sold the earplugs to the military since the 1990s before the company was purchased by 3M.

 The government alleged that 3M and Aearo Technologies, Inc. knowingly sold earplugs that were too short to fit properly in the ears, and that they could shift imperceptibly and become ineffective during use. Both situations rendered the earplugs ineffective against the level of noise for which they were designed.

Though the government gained millions in their lawsuit, injured soldiers didn’t receive a dime in the settlement. Friday’s ruling opens the door for military members with hearing damage to potentially receive monetary compensation for the often-permanent loss of hearing and related quality-of-life issues.

For many months, 3M has claimed it could not be held accountable by injured soldiers because, historically, government contractors are protected from tort liability by what is called “government contractor defense.” Judge Rodgers determined that the clause does not apply because 3M designed and developed the earplugs before they were sold to the military, and that they were designed without input from the Army or Department of Defense. 

Though 3M shortened the earplugs so that they would fit into government-issued carrying cases, Judge Rodgers found that those changes were also carried out without military input.

OnderLaw is proudly representing military members who suffer hearing loss or ringing in the ears after using 3M Combat Arms CAEv2 earplugs. If you are or have been a member of the armed forces, used 3M CAEv2 earplugs, and believe you have suffered hearing damage, contact OnderLaw. We will fight for you.