The earplugs in question are 3M’s Dual Ended Combat Arms earplugs, which the case explains were standard issue for many military branches from 2003-2015. The plugs are double sided, the suit says, with one side—the “closed” side—designed to block sound like a traditional earplug and the other—the “open” side—designed to block “loud impulse sounds” like artillery fire and explosions while leaving human voices audible.
The suit alleges that these products are defective and can cause hearing loss in wearers. Although the plugs are designed to be inserted in the ear and naturally adapt to the ear’s contours, forming a seal, the complaint states that they will start to return to their original shape after some time, breaking the seal. The suit claims that when the open side is inserted once the seal has begun to degrade, the plugs actually amplify noise instead of reducing it. The three lead plaintiffs in the case, who served in the military between 2000 and 2016, all claim to have suffered hearing loss as a result of this alleged defect.
3M allegedly discovered this defect during testing of the product in 2000 and found a way to remedy the issue by folding the flanges on the non-inserted end back before putting the plugs into a wearer’s ears. The suit asserts, however, that 3M never informed the military of this work-around, so soldiers continued to wear the plugs the wrong way.
“3M knowingly sold the defective Earplugs to the U.S. military for more than a decade without the military and/or Plaintiffs having any knowledge, or way to learn, of the defect(s), and failed to adequately warn the military and/or Plaintiffs of the defect(s),” the complaint reads.
The suit alleges that 3M falsely marketed the products as having a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of zero on the open end, when their NRR was in fact negative two (meaning they amplified sound). Moreover, 3M, the suit says, never properly warned servicemen that the only way to achieve the earplugs’ touted NRR was to modify the product by folding the yellow flanges.
3M was previously hit with a whistleblower suit over its ear protection in July of 2018, and settled for $9.1 million.