3M is a major corporation that sells thousands of work and safety products. You may even recognize the name from some items you purchase for your household, such as scotch tape, post-it notes, and adhesive hooks. One particular product that they sell—their 3M Combat Arms earplugs—has recently gained the unwanted attention of both the legal system and the press.
It all started back in 2016 when one of 3M’s competitors filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the corporation under the False Claims Act. The complaint alleged that 3M made false claims regarding the safety and design of their earplugs. Based on these false claims, the U.S. government purchased the earplugs to provide to members of the U.S. military for use in combat zones.
Although 3M settled the lawsuit in 2018 after it agreed to pay $9.1 million to the U.S. government, lawsuits from veterans and other affected military members are still being filed against the corporation in an effort to recover damages for injuries caused by 3M’s defective earplugs.
However, you do not need to be a member of the military or a veteran in order to file a lawsuit. Civilians who have been injured by 3M’s product may be eligible for damages as well. Thus, if you or a loved one has sustained injuries as a result of using 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs, then you should contact a local personal injury attorney for further legal guidance on the matter as soon as possible.
What is the Specific Defect Associated with 3M Earplugs?
After the whistleblower lawsuit was settled, many veterans and military members started filing private actions against 3M for the defective earplugs. There were two main issues that their complaints alleged. The first had to do with the fact that the earplugs had a design defect. Specifically, the earplugs were too short and thus would constantly slip out of a wearer’s ears.
Since the earplugs did not stay in or fit properly, many plaintiffs were exposed to noise levels that caused severe hearing damage. The earplugs were also supposed to have two levels for listening purposes: one that showed they were open and the other that they were closed. However, the dual settings option did not work.
The second issue, which eventually became public knowledge after the settlement in 2018, was that 3M knew for almost two decades about the design defect. Then failed to warn the public about it, continued selling the earplugs regardless, and illegally tampered with test results to hide the fact that their earplugs were not safe for consumer use.
What Injuries are Associated with Defective 3M Earplugs?
Some of the most common types of injuries that have been associated with the defective 3M earplugs include:
- Permanent or temporary hearing loss;
- Loss of balance;
- Permanent inner ear damage;
- Tinnitus (i.e., a medical condition that causes ringing or buzzing in a person’s ears);
- Emotional distress; and/or
- Various other related injuries.
Can I File a Lawsuit if I’ve Been Injured by 3M Earplugs? Who Can Be Held Liable?
Veterans, military members, civilians, and any other individuals who have been harmed by 3M Combat Arms earplugs may file a lawsuit to recover damages. The typical plaintiff in the majority of these cases tend to be veterans who have suffered hearing related injuries from using the defective product and have served in the military between the years of 2003 to 2015.
As for parties who can be held liable for damages, 3M is the primary defendant or entity named in most of these cases. However, lawsuits where the plaintiff is a civilian or other private individual who is not affiliated with the military may be able to take legal action directly against their employer.
In such a scenario, the employer must have continued to supply its employees with the defective earplugs even after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) deemed them to be unsafe.
What Types of Damages Would I be Entitled To?
If a plaintiff manages to bring a successful lawsuit, then they may be eligible for the following types of damages:
- Compensatory damages awards, which may be used to cover:
- Medical bills;
- Hospital visits;
- Lost wages;
- Lost earning capacity;
- Loss of consortium; and
- Other medical treatments (e.g., hearing aids or assistive devices);
- Damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, or diminished quality of life;
- Loss of consortium;
- Punitive damages; and/or
- Changes to work policies or safety standards.
Remember, for a plaintiff to be eligible for damages, they must have specifically used 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs, suffered an injury due to using the product, and prevailed on their legal action.
Lastly, it should also be noted that while many affected persons were veterans or military members, civilians who are not affiliated with the military, but were injured by 3M’s earplugs, may file a lawsuit to recover damages as well.
What Evidence or Proof is Needed in a 3M Defective Earplug Lawsuit?
Lawsuits that involve dangerous or defective products are typically brought under one of four types of legal theories: negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, or misrepresentation. The most common cause of action used in such cases is negligence. This means that the plaintiff will be required to show that the manufacturer knew or should have known about the potential risks associated with the design of their product.
As such, in order to support the claim that 3M Combat Arms earplugs were defectively designed, a plaintiff must be able to prove the following factors:
- The plaintiff used the product (e.g., 3M earplugs) as it was intended;
- The manufacturer could foresee that despite using the product for its intended purposes, its design could potentially pose a risk of danger to consumers;
- There was an alternative design the manufacturer could have adopted to make the product safer, and that this other design would perform just as well or the same as the product in question;
- That the cost necessary to make a safer alternative design is not unreasonable; and
- That although the plaintiff used the product as it was intended, they still suffered injuries as a result of using it.
Additionally, depending on what jurisdiction is hearing the case, the plaintiff may need to prove the product created a risk of danger that goes beyond what the average consumer would expect to occur when the product is used for its intended purposes. This legal standard is known as the “consumer expectations” test. If adopted by the jurisdiction, this test will replace the above factors that require a plaintiff to provide a safer alternative design.
Generally speaking, most jurisdictions use either the consumer expectations test or the option for a safer alternative design. This distinction is important to know before bringing a case. If an individual is unsure, they should consult a local lawyer who is familiar with products liability laws in their area.
Are There any Defenses that Might be Raised?
Thus far, any defenses that 3M has raised against claims have been struck down by numerous federal courts throughout the country. However, this does not necessarily mean that those defenses will fail in every case since personal injury lawsuits are largely based on facts.
The main defense that 3M has been attempting to assert is that they are a government contractor and are therefore immune to lawsuits involving tort liability for products or work conducted under a federal contract. The defense has already failed in several courts primarily because 3M has not been able to establish the elements required for this specific defense.
Some other defenses that 3M may raise in the future against claims where the plaintiff is an ordinary civilian include:
- Expired statute of limitations;
- Assumption of risk;
- Contributory or comparative negligence;
- Lack of proof (e.g., the plaintiff did not establish the required elements); and
- That 3M’s earplugs were not the actual cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.
Should I Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer for Assistance with a 3M Earplug Lawsuit?
If you or your loved one has suffered injuries as a result of using 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, then it may be in your best interest to consult a local personal injury lawyer for further legal assistance. Your lawyer will be able to determine whether you or your loved one has a viable claim, can help you file a complaint and prepare a lawsuit, and can represent you in court if necessary.
Additionally, it is crucial that you speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. Delaying legal action may prevent you from bringing a claim in the future and you could miss out on the opportunity to recover damages for any injuries you sustained from using 3M earplugs. Depending on where you live, you may also lose your chance to join a class action or multidistrict litigation if you wait too long.