3M combat arms earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) was manufactured by 3M Corp. and developed initially by Aearo Technologies LLC. 3M acquired Aearo Technologies in 2008.
For over a decade, millions of United States servicemen and women received these 3M version 2 earplugs because 3M was the exclusive supplier of earplugs to the US military. The double-ended combat earplugs were issued to branches of the military from 2003 to 2015.
As a government contractor, Aearo was supposed to certify that the earplugs were safe and effective, along with providing proper fitting instructions on how to use the earplugs correctly.
However, the company’s internal testing (which they did not disclose to the government) revealed test subjects with mixed results because improper fitting didn’t significantly reduce noise levels.
Because of the design of the 3M combat version 2 earplugs, a flexible cup sometimes protruded from the ear and needed to be folded back; otherwise, the earplug would slowly loosen and allow dangerous noise levels to seep into the ear canal. The protruding cup was a design flaw.
After 3M Corp. purchased Aearo, the company’s new owner proceeded to change the packaging that had the correct fitting instructions WITHOUT disclosing this change to the military. Even worse, they incorrectly instructed users to insert the device “as they normally would insert earplugs,” which was akin to hiding the design flaws in 3M’s version 2 earplugs.
The defect in design, coupled with incorrect fitting instructions, resulted in military personnel incorrectly fitting the earplugs. In turn, incorrectly fitting the earplug has caused thousands of United States soldiers and combat veterans permanent debilitating ear injuries. These include partial or total hearing loss and tinnitus associated with intolerable constant or intermittent loud ringing, clicking, or buzzing sounds in the ear.
Of the over 250,000 pending 3M earplug cases, the 4th case to go to trial received a verdict by a jury and awarded a US army veteran $8.2 million. So far, the average judgment is $3.2 million as of October 2021.
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