3M Earplugs Lawsuit

Hearing loss and tinnitus are common types of workplace illnesses and affect more than 20,000 people every year.

The numbers are even worse for military personnel. According to the Veterans Administration (VA), there are more than 2.5 million annual disability cases.

3M, the manufacturer of earplugs used by military personnel and industrial workers, is facing hundreds of lawsuits filed by plaintiffs suffering from hearing loss due to defective earplugs.

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  • What Earplugs Were Involved in the Lawsuits?
  • Who Used 3M’s Dual-Ended Earplugs?
  • How Are the 3M Dual-Ended Earplugs Defective?
  • What Damage Did the 3M Dual-Ended Earplugs Cause?
  • Were the 3M Dual-Ended Earplugs Recalled?
  • How Was 3M Negligent in Manufacturing the Dual-Ended Earplugs?
  • Have There Been Any 3M Lawsuit Settlements?
    • What Is the False Claims Act?
  • What Lawsuits Are There Against 3M?
    • Are There Any Class Action Lawsuits?
  • How Do I Get a 3M Hearing Loss Lawyer?
  • Who Would Handle My Lawsuit?
  • Sources

3M Earplugs Hearing Loss Lawsuits

In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers limit their employees’ exposure to loud noises that can damage hearing. In some cases, the noise level in the environment cannot be reduced to meet OSHA’s regulations, so earplugs are required to meet these goals.

However, both industrial workers and military personnel who used earplugs manufacturer by 3M are now experiencing hearing loss and tinnitus: two conditions the earplugs were supposed to help them avoid. 3M has been accused of manufacturing earplugs that did not meet the specifications of either military or industrial use or concealing that information from their customers.

What Earplugs Were Involved in the Lawsuits?

3M has been sued over two different types of earplugs. The first is the 3M dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, specifically Version 2 (CAEv2), designed for military use. The second is the 3M E-A-R ARC earplugs, which were used in more industrial settings by workers. Both types of earplugs are made up of double-ended cones that are connected to each other by a stem. When inserted into the ears one way, they will block only loud, explosive noises but allow the wearer to hear conversational noise. When inserted the other way, they’re intended to block out all noise.

Who Used 3M’s Dual-Ended Earplugs?

The 3M dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs were intended for military use and were frequently used by military personnel in combat zones. The 3M ARC earplugs were designed the same way as the Combat Arms earplugs, the primary difference being their color, and were meant for civilian use. These earplugs were used by people in a variety of occupations, including:

  • Construction workers
  • Electrical workers
  • Factory workers
  • Road workers
  • Farm workers
  • Mine workers
  • Iron and metal workers

How Are the 3M Dual-Ended Earplugs Defective?

For some people using the Combat Arms or ARC earplugs, the connection stem was too short. This allowed the earplugs to work themselves loose in a way that was completely undetectable to those wearing them. As the earplugs loosened, the protection they were supposed to provide weakened along with the seal the earplugs were supposed to create against loud noises. As a result, many users of these earplugs suffered from tinnitus and hearing loss when they had thought they were protected.

What Damage Did the 3M Dual-Ended Earplugs Cause?

The defective 3M dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs and the E-A-R Arc earplugs resulted in the following conditions:

  • Partial or complete hearing loss in one or both ears
  • Tinnitus as a constant or intermittent ringing, whining or buzzing sound
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Inability to sleep even when tired
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Headaches, neck aches or ear pain

These conditions can have a considerable impact on a person’s quality of life and ability to work.

Were the 3M Dual-Ended Earplugs Recalled?

3M did stop selling the 3M Combat Arms earplugs in 2015, but no recall was ever issued. This means that some of the earplugs with the defect could still be in use by unsuspecting workers or military personnel who may continue to use them, unaware that they could be risking tinnitus or hearing loss. The 3M E-A-R Arc Earplugs were sold for longer, but now no longer appear on the 3M website under their E-A-R products. However, these earplugs could also still be in use by many civilian industrial workers across the country.

How Was 3M Negligent in Manufacturing the Dual-Ended Earplugs?

The lawsuits against 3M claim that the company was aware of the defects in their E-A-R Arc earplugs and Combat Arms earplugs. Despite the problems with the product, 3M continued to manufacture the earplugs and sell them without disclosing the defects to those who purchased them. The lawsuits claim that 3M knowingly sold a defective product to both civilians and to the government for military use without revealing the risks, resulting in hearing loss and other conditions, prioritizing profit at the expense of the people harmed by using their products.

Have There Been Any 3M Lawsuit Settlements?

The most high-profile case against 3M for their defective dual-ended earplugs is the whistleblower lawsuit brought against 3M by its competitor, Moldex-Metric, in 2016 under the False Claims Act. The lawsuit alleged that 3M was aware of the defects in their Combat Arms earplugs and had chosen to continue selling them to the United States government for military use anyway. The lawsuit also claimed that 3M had manipulated test results so that the earplugs would appear to have met military safety standards even though they had not.

This case was resolved in a settlement in 2018 in which 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to the plaintiffs. According to representatives of the United States Department of Justice, the large settlement proves that any government contractor that sought profit at the expense of the United States’ soldiers would face consequences for those actions.

Although the settlement did not include a determination of liability, considering the claims of the lawsuit to be allegations only, 3M is now facing hundreds of lawsuits from veterans claiming that using 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs has damaged their hearing, caused tinnitus, or caused another negative health condition.

What Is the False Claims Act?

The False Claims Act is legislation that holds anyone who defrauds a government program liable. Typically this applies to government contractors who seek profit at the expense of the government or even people, as in the case of 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs harming soldiers. The False Claims Act contains a provision for whistleblowers who can, as private parties, sue on behalf of the U.S.government. In the case of the $9.1 million settlement, Moldex-Metric was that whistleblower, suing 3M on behalf of the government, entitling the company to a share of the settlement.

What Lawsuits Are There Against 3M?

There have been hundreds of lawsuits filed against 3M. Hundreds of veterans have filed lawsuits against 3M, claiming that the company had knowingly sold defective earplugs and also failed to provide adequate instructions for their proper use and that they had caused hearing loss and other conditions in those who had used them.

However, in April of 2020, a judge ordered the unsealing of court documents related to the Defense Department’s purchase of the 3M Combat Arms earplugs for use by troops and will be usable in the lawsuits. An example of the unsealed court documents includes a deposition from a regional sales manager for 3M who stated that the soldiers using their earplugs didn’t need to know that they were less effective than the soldiers were led to believe. Other documents reveal that 3M concealed information about the negative effects the earplugs could have.

Are There Any Class Action Lawsuits?

Many of these lawsuits have been combined into class-action lawsuits against the company. These lawsuits are still ongoing, so their results are as of yet unknown. A class action lawsuit allows a plaintiff or plaintiffs to file a lawsuit on behalf of everyone who used the 3M earplugs, whether they decided to file a lawsuit on their own or not. Anyone who was affected by using 3M’s defective earplugs can join a class action lawsuit.

While the lawsuits thus far have focused on veterans’ suffering under the effects of defective 3M Combat Arms earplugs, the 3M E-A-R Arc earplugs shared a similar defect that could have affected industrial and other workers across the country. 3M may be facing lawsuits regarding the E-A-R Arc earplugs in the future on top of the hundreds of lawsuits the company is already facing for the Combat Arms earplugs.

How Do I Get a 3M Hearing Loss Lawyer?

Though the VA may provide some disability services for veterans who have suffered hearing loss during combat, those services may not be adequate. Combat veterans who used the 3M earplugs purchased and issued by the military are filing lawsuits to seek compensation for their injuries, disability, and permanent hearing loss.

Each case is unique and must be evaluated separately. Veterans who used 3M dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs during combat or military action and who suffered hearing loss, have severe tinnitus or other hearing-related problems should seek legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Who Would Handle My Lawsuit?

Seeger Weiss’ own Chris Seeger, a founding partner of the law firm, has been selected as Co-Lead Counsel on a team of attorneys that will represent the hundreds of veterans and current military members seeking compensation from 3M for their defective earplugs. Seeger will help represent those who have suffered because of 3M’s defective products and failure to disclose those known defects. Over 800 cases are currently ongoing against 3M.

If you or a loved one has used either 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs or the 3M E-A-R Arc earplugs and as a result has suffered from hearing loss, tinnitus, loss of balance, or another negative side-effect, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA.


Since its establishment in 1999, Seeger Weiss has led some of the most complex and high-profile litigations in the U.S.