The Purple Heart Foundation is arguing that 3M knew its earplugs were faulty prior to selling them to the US military. The accusation comes as part of a brief recently filed with the Eleventh Circuit Court. The veterans group says 3M knew a design flaw existed in Combat Arms version 2 earplugs and failed to “tell anybody about this defect until it was forced to do so during discovery in an unrelated lawsuit.” The group is also arguing that 3M has no claim to immunity for lawsuits filed over the defect regardless of its status as a government contractor. “Granting immunity to 3M under these circumstances,” the group says, “would create perverse incentives for other defense contractors to conceal defects and expose more servicemembers to the harm the Foundation’s members have suffered.”
Those harms include relentless tinnitus and permanent hearing loss; all of which were supposed to be mitigated by properly fitting hearing protection. Instead, lawsuits allege 3M knowingly manufactured earplugs that failed to create a proper seal in the wearer’s ear canal and exposed them to high-volume, hearing-damaging sounds.
3M’s record in recent trials over the issue should give the corporation no comfort over its prognosis for future lawsuits. Verdicts have topped over $100 million in some cases and the company is currently appealing $8 million in judgements in the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
The issue began when a whistleblower informed the United States government that 3M knew the batch of earplugs it was selling was faulty and chose to complete the sale anyway. The government fined 3M $9.1 million for the deception, effectively getting a refund on the purchase price. For servicemembers and veterans, however, the damage had already been done. Absent any indication that their government would fight on their behalf, they began filing their own lawsuits against 3M to seek compensation for lifelong injuries.
“3M’s only argument on this front is that the Army likely had enough information in its possession to figure out the problem on its own,” says the Purple Heart Foundation. “That is not the law.”