A federal court judge ruled on Friday, July 24, 2020, that 3M created designs for its Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) without U.S. military input, and so the company cannot use the government contract defense at trial.
In planning their legal strategy, 3M lawyers aimed to invoke the government contract defense, which protects companies from facing liability for defective products that are designed and produced for the federal government.
The American multinational conglomerate gave an outward appearance of being unfazed by the judge’s ruling, issuing a statement that read, “We remain confident the evidence will show that the CAEv2 product, which was developed in response to the U.S. military's request and based on its own specifications and testing, was not defective and did not cause injuries."
About the Lawsuit
3M has been embroiled in a lawsuit that alleges the company sold “dangerously defective” earplugs to the military. Soldiers and Marines have reported suffering long-term hearing disabilities, including hearing loss and tinnitus, as a result of using the earplugs, and they are suing the Maplewood, Minnesota corporation to recover damages from these injuries.
A company called Aearo Technologies developed the CAEv2 to be used by both civilians and the U.S. military. The device features a double-ended design to theoretically afford varying levels of protection. The military used the CAEv2 earplugs as standard issue military gear from 2003 to 2015.
3M bought Aearo Technologies in 2008, putting it in the liability hot-seat for the future outpouring of lawsuits. A 3M competitor initiated the company’s legal troubles in 2016 when a whistleblower filed a complaint via the False Claims Act. The complainant called 3M out for making false claims to the military regarding the earplugs’ safety—and that it did so fully knowing about the devices’ design defects.
The corporation settled on paying the U.S. government $9.1 million in 2018, with hopes that these allegations would be resolved. Now it’s the veterans’ turn for justice. To date, more than 140,000 users of the CAEv2 earplugs have filed lawsuits—with most of them being U.S. military veterans.