Unsealed Documents Prove 3M Executives Knew Combat Earplugs Were Defective

Legal NewsVeterans

Because of defective ear plugs sold by 3M to the U.S. military, in recent years, approximately 1 million veterans received disability compensation for hearing loss, and even more—over 1.3 million—received compensation for tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Over 150,000 veterans have filed lawsuits against 3M for the faulty earplugs, which contained dangerous design flaws that would cause the earplugs to loosen in the ear, allowing for high-decibel explosions to harm soldiers’ hearing. 

On April 20, a federal judge in Pensacola, FL made hundreds of emails, internal memos and other documents public. The documents show that 3M officials were aware the company’s Combat Arms earplugs were defective yet withheld that information from the U.S. military. 

In addition, the public documents reveal that 3M didn’t think it was a priority to educate U.S. soldiers on how to properly adjust the earplugs for a safe, snug fit. 

Despite the internal memos and emails, 3M maintains that it did not intentionally withhold the information about the defects from the government. In fact, 3M’s response seems to put the blame squarely on the government. A statement provided by a 3M spokesperson claims that it was the military’s decision to make the earplugs shorter, which created the loose fitting. 

As reported by Bloomberg Government,  an internal memo by a 3M scientist for the company’s Personal Safety Division says, “the existing product has problems unless the user instructions are revised.” 

In a deposition by a 3M Midwest territory sales manager, the sales manager replied, “I don’t believe so,” when asked the following: Were soldiers entitled to know that the way the company tested the earplugs wasn’t the same way that service members were instructed to use them?

The sales manager visited U.S. military bases frequently yet never shared instructions with military personnel on how to reduce decibel levels to the maximum capacity. 

The public documents also reveal that 3M marked up their defective earplugs nearly 800 percent. The cost to make them: 85 cents; the selling price: $7.63. 

In March of this year, over 20,000 personal-injury lawsuits were filed by veterans against 3M. The case is expected to get a trial date sometime next year. 

Veterans who are suing 3M allege that 3M was made aware during testing that earplugs were too short to fit properly into an ear canal. And as a result, the earplugs could loosen, but not to an obvious degree.

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