3M Company is staring down a class action filed by a U.S. Marine Corps officer who claims the defendant supplied defective Combat Arms earplugs to the military for more than 10 years and consequently subjected soldiers to avoidable hearing loss.
3M Company is staring down a proposed class action lawsuit filed by a U.S. Marine Corps officer who claims the defendant supplied defective Combat Arms earplugs to the military for more than 10 years and consequently subjected soldiers to avoidable hearing loss and tinnitus.
3M allegedly began selling its dual-ended, selective attenuation earplugs to the U.S. military in 2003 and served as its exclusive supplier of combat earplugs until 2015. The green end of the earplugs, the suit says, was to offer protection from all sounds; the yellow end, pictured below, was meant to significantly reduce loud impulse noises—gunfire, explosions—while allowing the wearer to hear low-level sounds, such as voice commands or footsteps.
According to the lawsuit, however, the earplugs were defective in that their design was “simply too short” to sit deep enough in the ear canal and allowed the protective gear to loosen imperceptibly in the wearer’s ear, exposing him or her to harmful levels of noise.
The case claims the defendant knew its Combat Arms earplugs were defective and went so far as to skew test results to ensure that the earplugs met the military’s quality standards. In fact, the lawsuit says, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in July 2018 that 3M had agreed to pay over $9 million to resolve a whistleblower case in which the company was accused of selling earplugs to the government without disclosing “defects that hampered the effectiveness of the hearing protection device.”
The proposed class action seeks to compensate soldiers for the costs of diagnosing and mitigating hearing loss and “related hearing maladies” caused by the defendant’s allegedly defective Combat Arms earplugs. From the complaint:
“Absent Defendant’s negligence, fraud, breach of duties, misrepresentations, or any combination of such acts, the exposure to dangerous levels of impulse noise and the resulting risks of hearing loss would have been materially lower or non-existent.”