In August of 2018, the United States Department of Justice resolved the whistleblower lawsuit filed by Moldex-Metric against 3M, the manufacturer of standard issue ear protection devices for combat use. To the tune of $9.1 million, 3M settled allegations made against their dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2), without admitting liability. The plaintiff claimed 3M knew the devices were too short to be inserted properly in the ear canal yet sold them anyways. As a violation of the False Claims Act, Moldex-Metric, the competing manufacturer, sued on behalf of the United States government.
During the proceedings, Moldex-Metric exposed evidence that both the original manufacturer, Aearo Technologies, and 3M, had prior knowledge of existing defects, yet falsified test results in order to distribute the standard-issue CAEv2 earplugs for more than 10 years. In addition to this, the plaintiff found the earplugs were physically too short for proper fitting. Beyond the earplugs being difficult to insert, many users have reported the devices loosening over time and even falling out unexpectedly. This in turn could be the cause for their moderate to severe hearing loss, tinnitus, and or inner ear damage.
Service members face a wide range of loud noises. From mechanical equipment to weapon fire, the military workplace is inherently loud, with sounds easily surpassing 110 dB. The 2015 study conducted by Military Medical Research puts things into perspective, showing that a standard- issue rifle will produce an impulsive noise over 150 dB, while a light anti-tank weapon generates over 184 dB.
Furthermore, the U.S. Veterans Benefit Administration monitors disability claims closely, and compounds the annual data into a single report. As seen in the image below, the VAs 2017 Disability Report, clearly identifies hearing loss and tinnitus as the most common service-related disability with a total of nearly 2.9M cases. With harsh, noisy conditions and hearing damage on the rise among service members, it’s no surprise that the U.S. military spends millions on protective safety equipment.
But what happens when a manufacturer releases millions of defective devices? Although the False Claims Act goes a long way to protect the U.S. government, it’s not intended to compensate victims. Therefore, none of the $9.1M settlement was distributed among the CAEv2 users. Yet, in many ways, the whistleblower lawsuit can be viewed as a catalyst for the increasing number of personal injury lawsuits being filed by affected service members.
What You Need to Know
Due to the defective design and the decade that the CAEv2 earplugs were standard issue equipment, it’s possible that hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members and veterans may have used them. For example, veterans who operated in either Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts between 2003 and 2015 are likely to have relied on the CAEv2 earplugs during deployment.
Any individual who relied on these earplugs may now suffer from hearing damage. Active duty and veteran service members should get their hearing tested regularly in order to identify potential issues before they worsen into more serious conditions. Affected veterans should speak to a doctor after experiencing any intermittent or permanent symptoms, including but not limited to, tinnitus or ringing in the ears, partial to complete hearing loss, and balance affecting inner ear damage.