Levin Papantonio Rafferty Legal Team Helps Win $7.1 Million for Plaintiffs in 3M Military Earplugs Lawsuit
Brian Barr and Troy Bouk, attorneys at Pensacola-based law firm Levin Papantonio Rafferty, emerged victorious in the first 3M military earplugs lawsuit to go to trial.
On April 30, 2021, a federal jury concluded a five-week trial by finding that 3M knew about defects in the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) design that cause hearing loss in users. The jury awarded $2.1 million in punitive damages—as well as compensation for medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering—to each of three plaintiffs in the case. The total amount for the jury verdict was $7.1 million.
“We feel particularly good about this outcome,” Bouk said. “3M put their own profits ahead of the quality of life for service members and veterans—men and women who already sacrifice so much for our country.”
“3M knowingly delivered defective earplugs to the Department of Defense for distribution to our troops. Our soldiers counted on these devices to do what they were designed to do. Instead, these brave men and women now suffer with hearing loss—on top of everything else they have already endured and sacrificed. It’s no way to treat our nation’s heroes.”
The main objective in a defective product lawsuit such as this is to recover plaintiffs’ compensatory losses for medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. However, the jury in this case awarded a generous amount in punitive damages, too. Punitive damages serve to punish Defendants and discourage others from behaving in a similar way.
“The jury could not help but feel the outrage we all feel at an American multinational corporation showing such indifference to our service men and women—all in the name of profit,” Barr said.
About the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs v2
3M’s CAEv2 military earplugs were standard issue in the military from 2003-2015. The devices were created by Aearo Technologies to protect against two of the most common causes of service-related disability among veterans: hearing loss and tinnitus.
3M bought Aearo Technologies in 2008. The company sold the defective combat earplugs to every branch of the U.S. military, taking over Aearo Technologies’ contract. The military issued the devices to all deploying soldiers and to military bases nationwide. Thousands of military service personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan relied on the earplugs to protect their hearing from noise caused by weapons systems, aircraft, and other vehicles during their deployments.
In 2016, Moldex-Metric, a competing military earplugs manufacturer filed a whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of the government under provisions of the False Claims Act. Moldex alleged that the CAEv2 failed to pass safety tests built into the military contract. On July 26, 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a press release announcing that 3M had agreed to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold the devices without disclosing defects by paying $9.1 million.
"Today's settlement will ensure that those who do business with the government know that their actions will not go unnoticed," Frank Robey, director of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command's Major Procurement Fraud Unit, was quoted as saying in the DOJ press release. "Properly made safety equipment, for use by our Soldiers, is vital to our military's readiness. Our agents will respond robustly to protect the safety of our military."
How the 3M Earplugs Worked—or Didn’t Work
The CAEv2 was uniquely designed with two ends—one with a green plug and one with a yellow plug. Each plug served a distinctive purpose. The green (or olive-colored) plug would block all sound from entering the ear. The yellow plug would block loud, combat-related noises, like firearm noise, while still enabling the user to hear orders from their commanding officers.
Unfortunately, a defective design and failure to warn of the defect and/or instruct on how to use the earplugs, caused users to suffer the very injuries the devices were intended to prevent.
The earplug stems are too short to fully insert into some ear canals. As a result, the third flange of the non-inserted end of the earplug is prone to press against some wearers’ ear canals and fold back to its original shape, thereby loosening the seal. These loosened earplugs are difficult to detect, and so soldiers who believed their ears were being protected continued to wear them amidst dangerous noise levels, ultimately causing tinnitus and/or hearing loss.
Many More Trials to Come
To date, more than 240,000 claims have been filed against 3M in this multidistrict litigation (MDL) assigned to the Honorable M. Casey Rodgers in U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Florida. Centralization of the claims helps eliminate duplicative discovery; prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings on Daubert issues and other pretrial matters; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary. Plaintiffs consist largely of service members and military veterans who used the company’s defective dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) and suffered hearing loss as a result. Military veterans as well as civilians who used these earplugs have been anticipating the outcome of this first trial, as it sets the stage for future settlement negotiations.
Additional trials are scheduled to happen in May and June. The combination of outcomes will set the tone for the other claims consolidated in the Florida MDL.
Call Levin Papantonio Rafferty for Help With Your 3M Military Earplug Lawsuit
If you served in the military, used the 3M Combat Arms version 2 military earplugs and have since suffered hearing damage or tinnitus, the legal team at Levin, Papantonio, Rafferty, Proctor, Buchanan, O’Brien, Barr & Mougey, P.A. will fight to get you the compensation you deserve.