When a whistleblower came forward to inform the US government that 3M was knowingly selling faulty earplugs to the military, one has to assume they were hoping for some matter of consequence to be enforced against the company. The constant barrage of noises encountered by servicemen and women caused by everything from loud engines to bomb explosions and gunfire can do great damage to their hearing over the years. And while a set of earplugs won’t stop a bullet, they are still a critical part of the overall protection of our armed forces.
“Government contractors who seek to profit at the expense of our military will face appropriate consequences,” said the acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Division at the time. Apparently, a $9.1 million fine for a company that had raked in over $30 billion in one year was deemed appropriate.
Recognizing that they would have to act on their own behalf because their government wasn’t going to, veterans began filing individual 3M Combat Arms earplug lawsuits. The lawsuits are based on allegations that the earplugs were manufactured too short to be effectively placed in the ear canal. Additionally, the suits contend that 3M was aware of that fact and chose to deliver the earplugs anyway.
3M accepted no liability in its 2018 settlement with the United States government, and even though then-U.S. attorney for South Carolina Sherri Lydon proudly proclaimed that “rigorous enforcement of the False Claims Act” allowed the government to “defend the integrity of our military programs and ensure that our men and women in uniform are adequately protected as they serve our country,” 3M alleges that there is quite simply nothing wrong with its earplugs.
“We deny the Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 product was defectively designed and caused injuries,” the company said. “The CAEv2 product is effective and safe to use, and we will vigorously defend ourselves against plaintiffs’ claims.”
It seems 3M has no problem paying millions to resolve government claims that the company knowingly sold the earplugs to the U.S. military without disclosing defects that hampered the effectiveness of the hearing protection device, but when it comes to showing accountability to the people who were actually harmed by their product, that effort is apparently worthy of a “vigorous” defense.