3M Earplug Lawsuit and Settlements for Defective Military Earplugs

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Written By Rocky Horton

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3M is an America-based manufacturer of consumer goods, including protective equipment, adhesives, laminates, dental products, insulators, and more. They are the makers of the Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, often abbreviated as CAEv2. These earplugs claimed to offer various levels of protection for active military members and were sold as standard-issue equipment to service men and women between 2003 and 2015.

In 2016, claims began circulating that the CAEv2 earplugs were defective, and that 3M made false claims about their effectiveness. The first 3M earplug lawsuit took place in 2018. The company agreed to pay over $9 million in damages despite not admitting liability. However, over 140,000 veterans have come forward since then to file a military earplug lawsuit against 3M.

Continue reading for our 3M earplug lawsuit update, including why lawsuits are being filed against these earplugs and how you can file an army earplug lawsuit if you feel that you have been injured by them.

What’s Wrong with 3M Earplugs?

The CAEv2 earplugs were designed to be wearable from either end, meaning the user could theoretically alter the level of protection by turning the plug around. Inserted one way, the earplugs offered a conventional level of earplug protection. When turned around and inserted in reverse, they would offer protection from military-specific ear trauma, such as from the loud noises produced by gunfire, explosions, and machine operation.

They were designed this way to prevent soldiers from needing to carry two sets of earplugs for different types of sound, risking using the wrong ones or losing the ones they need. 3M’s design would allow soldiers to hear dialogue commands when needed and block battlefield noise at the same time.

Though the dual-sided design was a sound idea, each military earplug lawsuit is now claiming that the plugs were designed too short to protect the structure of many users’ ear canals. This prevented them from being inserted into the user’s ear at a depth that would create a seal, which is needed to consistently protect the wearer from noise.

Some soldiers wore the earplugs without realizing that they became looser over time, causing harmful sounds to bleed through. Over time, this has led to chronic injuries and the reality of a massive army earplug lawsuit. Importantly, the lawsuit is against the manufacturer, 3M, not the US military or government.

3M Earplug Lawsuit

The company’s legal troubles began in 2016 when one of its competitors, Moldex-Metric, blew the whistle on 3M’s earplug design. The company claimed that 3M knew their earplugs were defective from as early as 2000 and falsely claimed to the US government that they were safe and effective.

This led to 3M offering the military $9.1 million to resolve complaints out of court. However, knowledge of the defective earplugs allowed many veterans who later suffered from hearing loss, tinnitus, or even deafness to realize that their condition may have been caused by the faulty earplug design.

This resulted in the current military earplug lawsuit, which has led over 140,000 active and retired service members to file suit against 3M for the injuries they sustained while wearing their earplugs.

Later, company emails between 3M officials and their manufacturing personnel revealed that the earplugs cost only 85 cents to produce while being sold to the government for $7.63 apiece. This information has been used in many of the lawsuits to suggest that 3M have been treating their military contract as a profit-making scheme, though the company officially stated later that the reported numbers included research costs.

3M Earplug Lawsuit Claims

The 3M earplug lawsuit claims have included many hearing-related illnesses such as tinnitus, which causes chronic ringing in the ears, and hearing loss. The claims are based on the fact that a tight seal around the wearer’s eardrum is required for an earplug to block dangerous sounds, such as those present on a military battlefield or training exercise. By designing the plugs too short for the ears of some users, they provide inadequate protection for these users.

The first earplug lawsuit update came in 2019 when a study of 85,000 service members discovered a dramatic increase in the rate of tinnitus among this group. Specifically, between 2001 and 2015, the number of tinnitus sufferers who had served in the military increased by nearly 4 times.

Importantly, not every service member has claimed the same injuries due to the unique relationship between the product’s design, the structure of the user’s ear, and each user’s unique duties, which put them at greater or lesser exposure to harmful sounds. This means that though the suits are all aimed at the same manufacturer, they have not been unified into a class action lawsuit. Instead, they have been consolidated into an MDL or multidistrict litigation, which groups individual cases in the same court.

Unlike a class action suit, in an MDL, each defendant must make their own case to be compensated according to their circumstances, rather than as a part of a larger group.

What is the Average Payout for 3M Earplug Lawsuit Settlements?

As mentioned, each military earplug lawsuit depends on different conditions, including the ears of the user and their experiences in the military. This means that there is no exact average payout for 3M earplug lawsuit settlements. However, settlements so far have ranged from around $50,000 to $300,000 depending on the case.

Despite this, the first few cases yielded far more, with the first three plaintiffs being resolved in a $7.1 million verdict, the first of several cases known collectively as the Bellwether trials. The total value of 3M is $100 billion with $35 billion in spendable assets, which means that the amount of potential compensation for the thousands of potential army earplug lawsuits still to come is very high.

How Long do 3M Earplug Lawsuit Settlements Take?

It’s difficult to know how quickly the 3M earplug lawsuit will be settled. In similar cases involving product liability and injuries, manufacturers often reach a global settlement for the cases against them within 1-2 years.

However, another aspect to consider is whether certain attorneys will refuse to join the global settlement. This could drag the case out further by forcing 3M to consider their position on additional cases on an individual basis, which could go to a jury trial on their own. This could cause the army earplug lawsuit to last an additional 1-2 years.

What is clear is that for veterans and active service members who believe that they have been injured by 3M’s earplugs, now is the time to file a military earplug lawsuit. The next earplug lawsuit update in a year or two will likely show that the cases are winding down, potentially making it more difficult to receive compensation for these injuries.

Who Can File a 3M Earplug Lawsuit?

There are a few requirements that someone must meet to file a 3M earplug lawsuit. The first is that they must have served in the military in active combat from the period between 2003 to 2015. The second is that they must have used the 3M combat arms earplugs during their time in the military. The third is that they must be diagnosed with any of the recognized conditions resulting from the faulty earplugs within 2 years of leaving the military.

The only earplugs in question are the dual-sided CAEv2 earplugs that are black and yellow, provided as standard issue by the military. The conditions that are a viable basis for a 3M earplug lawsuit include hearing loss, balance issues, tinnitus, or even chronic headaches if they can be demonstrated to result from exposure to repetitive or loud noises.

The statute of limitations is important for anyone hoping to file a 3M earplug lawsuit. This is the time that prospective plaintiffs have from the beginning of the lawsuits to file a case. The statute of limitations differs by state, but the typical time is 2 years. After this, you cannot claim hearing loss compensation as a result of wearing 3M earplugs.

How to File a 3M Earplug Lawsuit?

If your experience in the military between 2003 and 2015 qualifies you to file a 3M earplug lawsuit, you will need to assemble the appropriate evidence and documentation. This includes not only your proof of service but also proof of any relevant damages. These include:

  • Doctors’ fees
  • Prescription medication costs
  • Lost or diminished wages
  • Pain and suffering, including depression
  • Hearing aid costs
  • Lowered quality of life
  • Other relevant losses, such as a loss of career or association

Receipts, doctor’s notes, or work slips can be used to validate many of these costs. However, some such as pain and suffering are more abstract and may require other types of evidence. These could include a pain diary or reports from family and friends that serve as evidence of your lowered quality of life since being injured.

After gathering the appropriate evidence, you will need to start building a case linking your injuries to your use of 3M earplugs. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you retrieve the proper evidence and assemble a winning case. The next earplug lawsuit update may show may be too late to file a suit, so don’t delay if you believe you are entitled to compensation. 


The 3M earplug lawsuit is a massive financial undertaking, with 140,000 plaintiffs so far coming forward with their own army earplug lawsuit. Those who served in the military from 2003 to 2015 who were issued 3M dual-sided earplugs and were later diagnosed with a hearing-related condition are eligible to file a suit against 3M.

Many have reported that the stalk of the earplug was manufactured without the length needed to protect the ears of every user, leading to damage resulting from exposure to loud or repetitive noises such as those produced by explosions, gunfire, and machinery. Though 3M denied liability for their earplugs’ defective design, they have paid millions in compensation so far for active and retired service members who claim to have been injured by the defect.

To file a 3M lawsuit, you must be within the statute of limitations, which in most states is 2 years, and be able to demonstrate that you were issued 3M earplugs as part of your military service and were later diagnosed with a hearing-related injury. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you assemble the evidence needed to present your case to ensure that you get the compensation you deserve in your 3M earplug lawsuit.

If you or a loved one has served in the military, you may also be interested in the Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit.

Rocky Horton

Rocky Horton


Rocky Horton is a health and safety expert from Chapel Hill, NC. He is the founder of AccidentAdvisor and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, and other publications. Learn more.