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Between 2003 and 2015, American soldiers stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other combat zones were issued faulty earplugs. The manufacturer of these earplugs, 3M, knew that the earplugs had a design flaw that could result in severe hearing impairment, or even permanent hearing loss. Yet despite knowing this, they continued their contract with the government without a word that the earplugs could be dangerous.

In 2016, a whistleblower finally revealed the full scope of 3M’s negligence. And as of March 2023, more than 200,000 current and former military personnel have joined a class action lawsuit against the manufacturer.

If you are a vet who served in Iraq or Afghanistan between 2003 and 2015 and suffered severe hearing loss or tinnitus, please call injury lawyer Karl Truman today at 502-222-2222. Karl Truman is a former Army officer himself, and the welfare of the veteran community in Louisville and Jeffersonville is one of his highest priorities.

3M’s Defective Earplugs Had a Serious Design Flaw—and 3M Knew It

In theory, 3M’s combat earplugs—officially known as 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2)—were intended to be a sophisticated solution to a difficult problem faced by service members in combat situations. Soldiers are constantly exposed to loud noises that, after time, can result in noticeable hearing problems that reduce combat effectiveness—not to mention qualify of life.

However, soldiers still need to be able to communicate with one another, respond to spoken commands, and be aware of their surroundings. A traditional earplug that blocked all sound might provide good hearing protection but would also inhibit communication and situational awareness.

To address this, the 3M earplugs were dual-sided and color-coded. One side featured a traditional “closed” earplug, while the other—colored yellow—was intended to reduce the volume of loud noises while still letting quieter sounds through. For years, military service members were told that this would protect their hearing, and they relied on them in the field.

However, there was a design flaw where the earplugs would not sit properly in the ear, allowing noise through and leading to hearing damage. Worse, 3M knew about the design flaw and that it could lead to significant hearing loss, even as they were negotiating with the federal government to become the military’s exclusive supplier of earplugs.

In 2016, 3M was sued on behalf of the government under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. In 2018, they agreed to pay a $9.1 million settlement to the U.S. Department of Justice without admitting responsibility. Since then, more than 200,000 service members have filed suit, in one of the largest mass tort cases in U.S. history. As of March 2023, more than $265 million has been paid out to hearing-impaired veterans so far.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is relatively common in older populations. According to the Mayo Clinic, more than half of Americans suffer from some degree of age-related partial hearing loss by age 75. However, military veterans who were exposed to loud sounds with faulty earplugs might develop much more severe symptoms, much earlier in life.

Common symptoms of military hearing loss include:

  • Muffled sounds or speech
  • Difficulty understanding others, especially in crowded or noisy environments
  • Difficulty distinguishing between certain consonant sounds (for example, s and f or sh and th)
  • Frequently asking others to speak up or slow down when they speak
  • Ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Inability to hear high-pitched frequencies (birds, alarms, etc.)
  • Having to turn up the volume on the TV in order to hear properly

If you’ve noticed any of the above, speak with a doctor as soon as possible and get a hearing test.

Were You Affected by Faulty Military-Issued Earplugs?

The 3M CAEv2 earplugs were issued to soldiers deployed to overseas combat zones. As noted above, the earplugs had a distinctive light (yellow) and dark (olive green) appearance. 3M was the exclusive manufacturer of military earplugs for overseas deployment, so if you were deployed between 2003 and 2015, chances are high you used them.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are some of the most common injuries that veterans suffer from. It is unacceptable that 3M did not recall their earplugs even after learning that they were defective, instead choosing to deliberately leave soldiers’ hearing unprotected.

Soldier next to graphic of faulty 3M military earplugs, with text that reads "get compensated for your hearing loss"

If You’ve Suffered Service-Connected Hearing Loss, You Deserve Compensation

Veterans who suffer from hearing loss connected to their time in service—and in particular, after using defective earplugs made by 3M—may have a variety of legal claims available to them. You may be eligible for compensation if you:

  • Were deployed overseas into an active combat zone between 2003 and 2015
  • Suffered hearing loss or tinnitus in one or both ears as a result of this deployment

If you used faulty 3M earplugs while deployed, you can file a negligence claim against 3M to recover economic and non-economic damages that you’ve suffered. This includes damages such as:

  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of income due to inability to work
  • Expenses such as hearing aids

Furthermore, many veterans with service-connected hearing loss will also be eligible for VA disability benefits. If your hearing loss is profound enough to prevent you from working, you might also qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance or private long-term disability.

RELATED POST: Can I Get VA Disability for Hearing Loss? – Truman Law

How an Attorney Can Help

Despite the clear suffering caused by defective combat earplugs, winning a legal case still requires a lot of investigation, preparation, and hard work. 3M continues to defend cases aggressively; their goal is to pay out as little as possible in compensation. If they cared about protecting military service members as much as they cared about profits, their earplugs never would have never been sold in the first place.

An attorney can help you gather the medical records, service records, and other evidence you will need to prove your hearing loss was caused by 3M’s negligence. They will also review past medical bills and speak with doctors, employers, family members, and others who can estimate your future economic damages and testify on how your impaired hearing has affected your day-to-day life.

Don’t try to take on 3M alone. An experienced personal injury lawyer can aggressively represent your interests and give you the best chance at a fair financial recovery.

Count on the Colonel to Hold 3M Accountable and Get You the Benefits You Deserve

These cases are deeply personal for Karl Truman. He served in the U.S. Army Reserve for 28 years, retiring in 2009. Many of the veterans who are now suing 3M for hearing loss were deployed while Karl was still on active duty himself.

Depending on your circumstances, a 3M earplug lawsuit might not be your only legal option. Our team will work hard to uncover all the potential sources of compensation that may be available to you, and then fight to get you those benefits. In addition to personal injury and class action lawsuits, our law firm also regularly handles VA disability, Social Security Disability, and ERISA long-term disability claims.

During your free consultation, we’ll start to get to know you, learn more about your circumstances, and provide you with compassionate, objective legal advice. If you hire us to represent you, you won’t owe us anything unless we make a recovery in your favor, such as a personal injury settlement or past-due disability benefits. If we do not make a recovery for you, you will owe us nothing.

Schedule Your Faulty Earplug Consultation Today

If you were a victim of faulty earplugs issued by the military, contact Karl Truman today at 502-222-2222 to schedule your complimentary, confidential, no-obligation consultation. We serve the veteran community in Louisville, Kentucky and Jeffersonville, Indiana.


DeLella, C. and Mody, S. (2023 March 15). 3M fights a growing legal battle over combat-grade earplugs. CNBC. Retrieved from

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.