3M Earplugs: Valuing Profits Over Country

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The Department of Justice issued a press release which stated:

“Through rigorous enforcement of the False Claims Act, we protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse”, said U. S. Attorney Sherri Lydon for the District of South Carolina.  “And in this case, in particular, we are proud 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.”

‘The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the men and women serving in the United States military from defective products and fraudulent conduct,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Department’s Civil Division.  ‘Government contractors who seek to profit at the expense of our military will face appropriate consequences.’

3M Settlement Breakdown

To give an idea of how 3M faced ‘appropriate consequences’, in 2006, 3M supplied 10,000 packages of these earplugs (50 pairs/per package, 500,000 pairs), guaranteeing at least $9 million in sales that year. 3M’s settlement, for knowingly selling a defective safety product to American soldiers for over a decade, was only one year of sales of one of their countless products.

The $9.1 million was settled with the Department of Justice and almost $2 million was rewarded to 3M”s competitor, Moldex-Metric, Inc., due to whistleblower provisions under the False Claims Act.

This doesn’t help the veterans who have to front the healthcare costs associated with treating hearing loss or tinnitus injuries or the over $1 billion in compensation per year on treatment for more than 800,000 veterans. The Department of Veteran Affairs data indicates that as many as 52% of combat soldiers are returning from overseas with significant hearing damage.

Even worse, hearing loss and tinnitus are two of the most prevalent service-related disabilities, according to the VA Benefits Administration, and according to the Hearing Center of Excellence, it is estimated that the U.S. government pays out over $1.4 billion of taxpayer money annually to veterans with hearing loss disabilities.

The Defective 3M Earplugs

The 3M dual-ended combat arms earplugs were meant to be worn by military personnel to protect them from damaging their hearing. These earplugs were designed to be worn in two ways. The wearer could insert the plugs one way if they needed to hear speech and another way if they needed greater noise protection. The plugs looked like two inverted cones connected at each bottom by a stem:

The Cost to Veterans and the American Taxpayer

Aside from the revenue already made by selling the defective products to the military for over a decade, there is a cost to hearing loss. It’s linked to diminished earning potential, anxiety and depression. The VA spends $2 billion a year in hearing-related disability benefits, a number that is expected to rise to $5 billion in five years. Hearing aids can cost thousands; cochlear implants cost more.

In 2012, the Department of Defense established a Hearing Center of Excellence, which calls hearing loss an epidemic and reminds soldiers that ‘not all injuries bleed.’ It’s a very serious epidemic which restricts the quality of life and career paths of U.S. veterans.

How to Fight Back

At Douglas & London, we’re committed to fighting for our veterans who have been exploited for the sake of profiting off taxpayer money.

Veterans of any branch of the military, who were deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq from 2003 – 2015 and have been diagnosed with tinnitus or hearing loss may be eligible for compensation.

If you or a loved one meet the requirements listed above, please contact us online or by phone at (212) 566-7500 for a free legal consultation. There is no upfront cost and you only pay if we recover compensation for you on your behalf. In other words, you don’t pay unless we win.