3m combat earplugs

Millions of veterans and active-duty service members live with hearing conditions like tinnitus and hearing loss. While many attribute these issues to the dangers of active service, a significant number could result from using defective 3M Combat Arms Earplugs. In August 2023, 3M agreed to pay $6.01 billion to settle lawsuits pertaining to these earplugs and the damage they caused.

We partner with trusted law firms that have extensive experience handling complicated product liability matters and helping injured veterans get the legal support they need to file claims.

Which 3M Earplugs Are Involved in the Lawsuit and Settlement?

The Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) are at the center of the lawsuit and settlement. These dual-ended earplugs featured a triple-flanged design that offered two different options for hearing protection:

  • Olive/Green End (Closed)– This traditional, linear earplug end was designed to protect the wearer from steady-state noise.
  • Yellow End (Open)– This end featured a non-linear filter. It was meant to protect the wearer from loud “impulse” noises like weapons fire while allowing them to hear lower-level sounds like everyday speech.

The CAEv2 earplugs were sold from July 1999 until they were discontinued in 2015. They were also issued to military personnel between 2003 and 2015.

An Army request in 1999 led to a design change where the earplugs were shortened to fit in standard carrying cases. According to the plaintiffs (the parties who filed the lawsuits that led to the settlement), this modification resulted in users having to roll back the cone-shaped ends, known as flanges, to achieve a proper seal. The plaintiffs argue that this change was executed without further military guidance.

What Was Wrong With the 3M Earplugs? Why Are They Defective?

Aearo, a 3M subsidiary that manufactured the earplugs and supplied them to the Army, admitted they did not perform sound attenuation testing until four months after they had already delivered them. Subsequent tests by Aearo revealed significant issues with the earplugs’ noise-reduction capabilities. Despite these findings, Aearo did not share the report externally until it surfaced in a lawsuit against 3M by a competitor in 2014. Only then was the CAEv2 discontinued.

The key manufacturing flaws of the CAEv2 were as follows:

  • Short Stem– Plaintiffs claim that the stem of the CAEv2 was too short for proper insertion, especially for users with larger ear canals. This made it difficult to insert the device deeply enough to create the airtight seal necessary for adequate hearing protection.
  • Flange Issues– The earplugs’ design also made it possible for the flanges on the yellow end to return to their original shape after insertion, often imperceptibly to the user. This sometimes resulted in a loosened plug that compromised the seal and let in harmful levels of sound.
  • Lack of Proper Instructions– Even though the earplugs could be manipulated for a better fit, troops did not receive proper instructions explaining how to achieve this better fit. This left personnel vulnerable to design defects, with no guidance on how to mitigate these issues.

What Injuries Are Associated with the Defective 3M Earplugs?

Many plaintiffs involved in the action against 3M claim they have partial hearing loss and tinnitus, or both. Tinnitus, which causes a high-pitched hissing or ringing sound in the ear, is notably the most common disability among veterans, with more than 2.7 million receiving benefits for the condition. While some forms of hearing loss are reversible with surgery or medication, there is often no cure for tinnitus.

Alongside these physical ailments, plaintiffs often report psychological effects such as depression and anxiety. Some even suffer from auditory processing disorder, a condition where they score normally on hearing tests but have difficulty understanding speech, often associated with blast exposure. Tinnitus is frequently co-diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and substance-use disorders.

According to one study, the likelihood of screening positive for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety increased for those who reported moderate to severe tinnitus. A study also found that tinnitus and hearing difficulties are significantly associated with poorer functional status among service members, meaning they impair the ability to perform regular duties.

Who Is Responsible for Injuries Caused by Defective Earplugs?

Although Aearo was the original developer of the CAEv2, multinational conglomerate 3M acquired the company in 2008 and is ultimately responsible for the earplugs. Although 3M attempted to shift liability to its subsidiary, Aearo, the Court rejected such efforts, and ultimately 3M has accepted legal responsibility as part of the settlement. The presiding judge rebuked this move as a “bad faith” attempt to evade responsibility

What Compensation Can You Pursue for Injuries Caused by Defective Earplugs?

As part of the settlement, you could be entitled to various types of compensation if you got hurt by defective 3M earplugs, including money for:

  • Tinnitus or hearing loss-related medical expenses
  • Projected medical costs you will likely incur in the future
  • Lost income or earning potential from reduced ability to work
  • Subjective losses like pain, suffering, and lost quality of

What Are the Settlement Options for Someone Affected by the 3M Earplugs?

First, the 13 plaintiffs who succeeded at their trials will get everything they were awarded. Second, the roughly 2,000 plaintiffs whose cases were worked up and sent back to the original courts where their cases were filed will receive approximately $150,000.

For the remaining plaintiffs who may be qualified for the 3M earplugs settlement, there are two options they must select:

Expedited Payment Plan

In this option, claimants must produce medical records to support their hearing-related injuries. The payment amount for each claim will depend on whether the claimants have tinnitus, hearing loss, or both, and will be determined via a score system. For example, soldiers get tested for hearing at certain intervals during their duty, so the records that show when those tests were taken and how much hearing loss the soldiers incurred will produce a point score.

For those who timely completed the registration form, selected the expedited pay program, and otherwise satisfied the settlement requirements, you will receive the following:

  1. Non-U.S. citizens who did not serve in the U.S. Military – $100
  2. Tinnitus only with no medical records to substantiate tinnitus – $5,000
  3. Recorded tinnitus and no hearing loss – $10,000
  4. Slight hearing loss substantiated – $10,000
  5. Mild hearing loss substantiated – $16,000
  6. Moderate to severe hearing loss substantiate – $24,000

These are gross figures that do not take into account attorneys fees, costs, and a 9 percent surcharge to the law firms that led the litigation, all of which will come out of the gross amounts.

Full Evaluation Plan

In this case, claimants will be evaluated in the same manner as the expedited payment option, but extenuating circumstances will be added in. As an example, if the hearing loss has exacerbated or caused PTSD, such factors will bump up the point score. Unlike payees in the expedited payment option, the payment amount for claimants under full evaluation will depend on how much of the entire $6 billion settlement remains once the other three settlement options are complete.

What If You Are Already Getting Veterans’ Benefits for Hearing Loss?

Seeking compensation as part of the 3M earplug lawsuit settlement should not affect any VA disability benefits you already receive for hearing loss or tinnitus. VA disability is awarded for service-connected disabilities and is not income-based. Therefore, pursuing compensation in the 3M defective earplugs settlement will not make you ineligible for veterans’ benefits. However, it’s a good idea to consult a lawyer to fully understand how it might interact with other aspects of your finances or military.