3M is an enormous multinational conglomerate headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota. The company is thoroughly diversified but is known most for manufacturing a wide range of products, including adhesives, abrasives, dental and orthodontic products, electronic equipment, software, and personal protective equipment. The company is presently suffering through the consequences of poorly designing certain personal protective equipment issued to the United States’ Armed Forces.
From 2003 through 2015, 3M produced protective earplugs for the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The earplugs were marketed as being effective at blocking dangerously loud sound, such as the sound of small arms and heavy weaponry fire, while still permitting users to effectively communicate verbally and hear approaching enemy combatants unimpeded.
The earplugs did not live up to the marketing. Due to a design flaw, the earplugs would loosen after insertion breaking the seal over the ear canal, allowing dangerous sound to penetrate and damage the inner ear. More astounding are the allegations that 3M knew about the defect as early as 2003, yet refused to recall, or even redesign the product until 2015. By 2006, several years after the defect was allegedly known, 3M’s contract with the United States government supplied an estimated 750,000 pairs of earplugs to the armed services on an annual basis.
Approximately 60% of veterans suffer from hearing loss after leaving the service. Over two million veterans received disability compensation for hearing loss and tinnitus. These numbers are likely inflated due to the lack of effective hearing protection. Veterans are now pursuing legal action against 3M for its persistent marketing of the ineffective earplugs despite knowledge it would lead to injury.
The 3M earplugs have been linked to complete or partial hearing loss resulting from damage to the inner ear. It is also a cause of tinnitus, which is a condition where an individual is constantly subjected to a ringing noise in the ear. Finally, sometimes loud noises can damage the Eustachian tubes in the ear, which are critical in maintaining balance.
In July of 2018, 3M agreed to pay nearly $10 million to settle a False Claims Act brought by a private company on behalf of the United States government. The claim was brought under the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act, which permits private parties to sue on behalf of the government when it appears that the potential defendant has submitted false claims for government funds. The statute rewards third parties that initiate such suits by awarding them a portion of the final judgment. In this instance, an employee of the company Moldex-Metric Inc. filed the whistleblower claim and received $1,900,000 for prosecuting the claim.
Litigation surrounding the earplugs is accelerating. If you or a loved one has served in the military and now suffers from hearing loss, reach out to the attorneys at Neumann Law Group for an evaluation of your claim.