3M Military Earplug Lawsuits

3M has agreed to pay $6 billion to settle 250,000 lawsuits filed by servicemembers over the company’s defective earplugs

By , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

From 2003 to 2015, millions of U.S. soldiers received special earplugs, designed to protect their hearing from loud noises (like gunfire and explosions) while allowing in quieter sounds. Aearo Technologies originally made these earplugs, before 3M took over production in 2008.

Starting in 2018, hundreds of thousands of service members have filed lawsuits against 3M and Aearo Technologies, claiming that the earplugs were defectively designed and 3M failed to warn users about known safety concerns, leaving service members with hearing-related injuries.

In late August 2023, 3M agreed to pay $6.01 billion to settle nearly 250,000 earplug lawsuits. Here's an overview of what you need to know about the history and current status of the lawsuits.

The Problem With 3M Earplugs

Service members are exposed to loud noises during training and combat, which is why having the right protective gear is so important. From around 2003 to 2015, service members in every branch of the military used combat earplugs manufactured by 3M or its subsidiary Aearo Technologies.

Then, in 2016, a whistleblower alleged under the False Claims Act that 3M earplugs were defectively designed and that 3M knew about the design flaw and didn't tell the military about it. 3M settled with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreeing to pay $9.1 million without admitting any liability in 2018.

The 3M earplugs were never recalled, but 3M stopped making them in 2015. The whistleblower settlement kick-started what would become the largest mass tort multidistrict litigation in U.S. history.

The 3M Multi-District Earplug Litigation

After the whisteblower settlement, hundreds of thousands of service members started filing personal injury lawsuits against 3M and Aearo Technologies, claiming that their use of the earplugs caused a variety of health problems, including:

Most of the 3M lawsuits were transferred to federal court in Florida in the largest mass tort "multi-district litigation" (MDL) in history. Judge M. Casey Rogers oversees the case, officially titled 3M Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2885.

MDL saves the court and parties time and resources by consolidating a group of cases involving similar issues into one federal district, letting one judge make pre-trial decisions that apply to all parties. MDL also encourages settlement with "bellwether trials." Bellwether trials are cases specially chosen by the judge and parties to go to trial first because they represent the most common legal issues in the MDL and often lead to a global settlement.

The first 3M earplug bellwether trail was in April 2021. 3M lost and would go on to lose nine more of the sixteen total bellwether trials, with juries awarding nearly $300 million in damages to service members.

Can I File a Lawsuit Over 3M Earplugs?

If you have been diagnosed with any type of hearing problem after using 3M Dual-Ended Combat Earplugs during your military service, you should talk to a lawyer about a potential product liability claim against 3M.

At a minimum, you'll need:

  • your official service records, and
  • medical records showing that you've suffered hearing loss, tinnitus, or another health problem related to your use of the earplugs.

You'll also have to file your lawsuit within a certain window of time—typically opening when your injury first appeared or was diagnosed and closing with the deadline to file a lawsuit in your state (called the "statute of limitations"). Most states allow plaintiffs one to six years to file personal injury lawsuits, though some have special rules for product liability lawsuits. If you miss the filing deadline, your lawsuit will likely be dismissed and you won't get compensation for your injury.

Your best first step is to talk to an attorney for details on lawsuit-filing deadlines and how they might apply to your specific situation.

Who Can I Sue for 3M Earplug Injuries?

When the average person gets hurt, they can usually file a lawsuit against the person or organization responsible for the injuries. But members of the U.S. military don't always have this right.

Service members typically can't sue the federal government for injuries. This rule comes from sovereign immunity, which traces its roots back to the idea that "the king can do no wrong." In other words, the government was typically immune from civil or criminal wrongdoing.

Over time, courts and legislatures have chipped away at the idea of sovereign immunity. For example, the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows individuals to sue the federal government in federal court for intentional or negligent acts committed by someone acting on the government's behalf.

But members of the armed forces aren't allowed to sue the federal government for injuries that arise during their service under a law called the Feres Doctrine.

Service members might not be able to sue the government, but they can sue the private companies who made the allegedly defective earplugs, Aearo Technologies and 3M.

How Much Is a 3M Earplug Lawsuit Worth?

If you're thinking about filing a 3M lawsuit, you're probably wondering how much money you might get if you win your case. How do you put a dollar amount on a lifelong injury like hearing loss caused by a defective product? What specific losses can you be compensated for in cases like this?

As with any injury-related case, figuring out the value of a 3M earplug claim starts with an understanding of "damages," which is a legal term that refers to compensation for losses suffered by an injured person (the "plaintiff").

Damages are paid by the defendant in the lawsuit. Whether your combat earplug case settles out of court or you receive a judgment in your favor after a trial, the money you receive is considered damages.

Let's look at some common categories of damages, and how each might affect the value of your 3M combat earplugs lawsuit.

Cost of Past and Future Medical Care

As a plaintiff, if you win or settle your case, your damages include compensation for:

  • any medical treatment you've received as a result of problems linked to faulty 3M earplugs, and
  • any care you'll need in the future.

If the full impact of your medical complications isn't clear, it may not be in your best interest to accept an injury settlement offer. Your attorney will want a clear picture of your injury and treatment needs. Once you accept an injury settlement, you can't go back and reopen your claim, even if you learn that your health problems caused by the defective earplugs are worse than you first thought.

Lost Income and Diminished Earning Capacity

If your hearing problems or other health issues have forced you to take time off from your job, or have otherwise affected your ability to earn a living, you can ask for compensation for that financial harm in your damages claim. Specifically, you're entitled to payment for any income you've already lost—and for income you would have earned in the future but now won't because of your injuries. An award based on lost income is called "loss of earning capacity" or "diminished earning capacity."

"Pain and Suffering" in a Combat Earplugs Case

In the context of a lawsuit over defective earplugs, pain and suffering might include:

  • physical pain and discomfort resulting from your diagnosis related to 3M earplugs and medical treatment for your condition
  • anxiety over your current hearing problems, and worry over the chance that those problems could get worse
  • sleeplessness, fear, depression, and other psychological effects, and
  • inability to perform certain tasks or engage in certain activities because of your hearing problems.

Learn more about pain and suffering in a personal injury case.

Punitive Damages

Medical costs, lost income, and pain and suffering are called "compensatory damages" because they are meant to compensate plaintiffs for their losses. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are meant to punish defendants for reprehensible behavior that goes beyond carelessness. An award of punitive damages typically requires a plaintiff to show that the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly (without concern for the safety of others).

Some plaintiffs in the 3M earplug bellwether trials have been awarded punitive damages. In December 2021, in the eighth 3M earplug bellwether trial, a former U.S. Army soldier was awarded $7.5 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages. In January 2022, a jury awarded two service members $110 million, including $40 million each in punitive damages. In May 2022, a Florida jury awarded a U.S. Army veteran $77.5, including $72.5 million in punitive damages, the highest ever for a single individual plaintiff.

Finding a Lawyer for a 3M Earplug Lawsuit

3M earplug lawsuits are complicated. A lawyer can explain the entire legal process to you (including how MDL works) and answer your questions.

A lawyer will tell you the strengths and weaknesses of your case. If you decide to work together, the lawyer will gather the right medical information and file the right legal paperwork to get you the best possible outcome in your case.

Most lawyers handle 3M earplug lawsuits under a "contingency fee" agreement. This means if you win your case, the lawyer receives a percentage of your compensation. If you lose, you'll owe no lawyer's fees. (You still might have to pay for costs—like court filing fees and expert witness fees—depending on your fee agreement.)

Learn more about how to find the right personal injury lawyer. When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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