Over 200,000 claimants joined multidistrict litigation (MDL) against 3M. The MDL accuses the company of manufacturing faulty earplugs. It is the biggest class of mass tort claimants in recent U.S. history.

Like defective drugs, defective medical devices cause more severe harm precisely because of the nature of the product.

Some medical product liability claims involve:

Medical device recalls are surprisingly common. What’s going on with the 3M earplug MDL?

Why Claimants are Filing Against 3M

3M manufactured the earplugs at issue, called Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEV2). CAEV2 earplugs were standard issue military equipment for almost ten years. The earplugs should have suppressed noises up to 190 decibels. 3M discontinued CAEV2 production in 2015, but the earplugs were not recalled.

In 2016, a whistleblower lawsuit alleged that 3M knew the CAEV2 earplugs were defective and still sold them to the U.S. military. The whistleblower claim was settled out of court for nearly $10 million. However, it opened the door for personal injury claims from veterans who used the earplugs and suffered hearing loss.

The claims of the 200,000+ plaintiffs are based on a two-part theory:

  1. Hearing damage and loss suffered by military personnel as a result of the failure of 3M’s CAEV2 earplugs; and
  2. For over a decade, 3M failed to disclose to the U.S. military the CAEV2’s material design defects. 3M’s failure to disclose prevented the military from identifying alternative hearing protection options.

The first case or cases are scheduled for trial in April 2021. These early cases, known as bellwether cases, often dictate the path of the remaining plaintiffs’ cases.

CAEV2 Defective Design and Failure

CAEV2 earplugs were designed to address multiple hearing protection needs of military service members using one piece of personal protective equipment. The earplugs were also designed to meet workplace safety standards.

Standards promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) limit noise exposure in the workplace.  The noise level exposure limit depends on the length of exposure. For shorter exposure durations, a higher level of exposure is permissible. For longer durations of exposure, a lower level of noise is acceptable.

CAEV2 earplugs were designed to limit short-duration noises, like weapons fire, while allowing in lower-levels of necessary noises, like commander communication. They were also designed to restrict all long-term noise levels, like the roar of an airplane engine or a loud vehicle.

Of course, this design depended on the earplugs’ proper use and insertion. The earplug’s effectiveness was lost if they became loose in the ear canals.

However, as alleged in the whistleblower lawsuit, the stems of the CAEV2 earplugs were too short for proper insertion. As a result, the earplugs did not offer effective hearing protection at all because they could not be inserted properly.

3M MDL Outlook

Even though over 200,000 plaintiffs have joined the multidistrict litigation against 3M, hundreds of thousands more military members may be impacted by the defective earplugs. The 3M CAEV2 cases are in their early stages and any affected military service members should evaluate their legal options as soon as possible.

If you or a loved one have been adversely affected by 3M earplugs, you might be able to join the pending litigation. Contact an attorney to discuss your case and learn more about your potential legal options for recovery.