Combat Arms Earplugs, a type of dual-ended earplug manufactured by 3M, have design defects that have resulted in permanent hearing loss for servicemembers from Hawaii. CAEv2 were standard issue to many divisions of the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015. Evidence from a Justice Department army earplug lawsuit indicates the manufacturer was aware of the defect yet failed to disclose it to the Department of Defense. Veterans suffering from hearing loss in Hawaii may be eligible for compensation by filing a Combat Arms Earplug lawsuit against 3M. This page provides a comprehensive look at army earplug defects and resulting hearing loss in Hawaii veterans.
The earplugs in question, the now-discontinued Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2, or CAEv2, were specifically designed to protect from the range of damaging noises encountered in army, from constant engine noises such as those from tracked vehicles or helicopters, to sudden, loud noises, such as those from explosive devices. The “selective attenuation” army earplugs utilize a rocker switch to rapidly switch between modes to offer protection against both constant and acute noises:
3M’s army earplugs are only effective when a tight seal is maintained. The shaft of the earplug is not long enough for some ear canals; as a result, the dual-ended earplugs can shift imperceptibly, loosening the seal. The earplugs still look and feel as though they are properly in place, yet they are permitting damaging sounds into the ear canal. Combat Arms Earplug defects ultimately caused many Hawaii servicepeople to suffer partial or total hearing loss and exposed millions more to a risk of army hearing loss between 2003 and 2015.
According to evidence produced by an anonymous whistleblower in 2018, the 3M earplug defect was first detected during internal product testing in 2000 by the original manufacturer, Aearo Technologies. (Aearo Technologies was acquired by 3M in 2008.) Test results were apparently manipulated to conceal the dangerous earplug defects. In 2003, at the onset of the Iraq war, Aereo Technologies responded to a Defense Logistics Agency RFP for army ear plugs with the defective Combat Arms Earplugs v2. In that paperwork, the company authorized that its earplugs complied with federal regulations, officials knew to be false. Failing to disclose the known earplug defect to the military constitutes a violation of the False Claims Act. 3M settled a DOJ lawsuit based on these allegations in 2018 for a sum of $9.1 million.
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