3M’s lawsuit over combat-grade earplugs

Nathan Frei, a former active-duty infantry officer who served in the U.S. Army from 2011 to 2015 and served as U.S. Army Inspector General, first noticed the to your own hearing problems. Nate, who was identified as having tinnitus, is now one of more than 200,000 claimants suing 3M over its Combat Arms earplugs.

Nathan Frey

Nathan Frey, a former active-duty U.S. Army infantry officer, said from 2011 to 2015 he underwent some of the most rigorous training the U.S. Army had to offer. A loud noise ensues – from weapons to helicopters to explosions.

To protect his hearing, Frey wears a 3M.

Today, he is one of more than 200,000 military and veterans sue the group. 3M stock, which hit a new 52-week low on Wednesday, is one of the worst-performing industrial stocks this year, down more than 16% in 2023, while XLI Industrial ETFsdown 1.5 percent so far this year.

The plaintiffs claim that 3M’s earbuds are “defective” and do not prevent hearing loss and tinnitus.

“We used [the earplugs] “Every time we were talking loudly,” Frey, who lives in Seattle, told CNBC. “I relied on hearing protection during that time.”

From 2003 to 2015, aviation technology Its parent company 3M manufactures and supplies to the U.S. military Combat Arms CAEv2 Earbuds。 These plugs are standard equipment for soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, and are designed to protect the hearing of military personnel during military training and combat.

3M Combat Arms CAEv2 Earplugs


Each earbud has two ends: the green end blocks out all sound. The yellow end indicates “whisper mode,” which is designed to block out loud sounds — but allows users to hear quieter sounds, such as conversations.

I don’t look like someone my age who should have as much hearing loss.

Nathan Frey

Former Active Duty U.S. Army Infantry Officer

“We’re told that by wearing ‘whisper mode,’ we can still protect our hearing,” said Frey, who claims he first noticed his own hearing problems in 2013.

“I heard the bell,” recalls Frey. “At first, I thought it was the TV on. So I searched around the house for the source of the noise before I realized it was just in my head.”

The 35-year-old said his hearing problems got worse as the years passed. He was later diagnosed with tinnitus, according to Veterans Affairs records Frey shared with CNBC.

“It’s constant,” he said. “It was a loud ringing in my ear – very similar to a hum.”

He said the ringing was so loud it sometimes kept him awake.

“I didn’t look like someone my age who should have that much hearing loss,” he said.

3M’s response

Eric Rucker, an attorney for 3M, told CNBC that the company has great respect for military personnel and that their safety is always a top priority.

3M Company World Headquarters in Maplewood, Minnesota.

Michael SirukGetty Images

“The purpose of creating [the Combat Arms earplugs] is working with the military to solve one of the longest-standing problems they have, which is that soldiers don’t wear hearing protection in loud noise and in combat,” Rucker said.

Rucker said the plugs were designed in collaboration with the U.S. military and tested Developed by the Air Force, Army, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and others.

“All of these tests show that Combat Arms earplugs can protect people’s hearing when they are installed correctly and used as directed,” he said.

Rook acknowledged that military audiologists are “well trained in how to train people and acclimatize people to use earplugs,” but insisted that “in an environment where these earplugs are appropriate, it should be effective and protect their hearing.”

After filing a whistleblower lawsuit in 2016accusing 3M of selling “dangerously defective” earbuds, Company agrees to pay DOJ $9.1 million Settle allegations without admitting responsibility.

Before long, thousands of other service members poured into the new suits.

today’s situation

Today, those lawsuits were consolidated in Florida federal court, forming what some are calling The largest mass tort in U.S. historyeven more than the multi-district litigation involving Johnson & Johnson Talc products.

Of the 16 cases that have gone to trial to date, 3M has lost 10 and has awarded 13 plaintiffs a total of $265 million to date.

“Several lead-leader trials have been conducted. Unfortunately, Aearo and 3M have not been able to provide all the evidence pertaining to the original design of the product, the military’s involvement in product design, and all issues related to the instructions, how the product was used, and the product’s performance, including some test information that has been excluded from some trials,” Rucker said.

“All of this is under appeal. We hope that the appeal’s decision will lead to more information,” he added.

Combat Arms earplugs protect people’s hearing when installed correctly and used according to their directions.

3M Recently published new data According to DoD records, this shows that 90 percent of the 175,000 plaintiffs were not hearing impaired by medically accepted standards. The plaintiffs’ lead attorney called the data “misrepresentations.”

“By relying on hearing standards that do not measure the frequencies most affected by noise, 3M has intentionally misrepresented these data and masked the hearing impairment suffered by veterans,” said Brian Elstock, co-lead counsel for service members and veterans, and Chris Seager said in a joint statement.

3M disagreed with these claims, telling CNBC: “The data support what 3M has maintained throughout the proceedings: Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 are safe and effective to use. This has been confirmed by every independent third-party organization that tested the product, including Army Research Laboratory, Air Force Research Laboratory, NIOSH, etc.”

liability risk

“Even the low end (even half) of the previously settled Combat Arms litigation equates to some pretty healthy liabilities that 3M will likely have to settle,” Brett Linzey, Mizuho’s executive director, wrote in a note to clients.

3M’s liability risk could run into the billions, according to one Wall Street analyst.

“Calculating the number of plaintiffs over 200,000 people and then calculating the average settlement value — a simple calculation gives you a benefit of $10 billion to $20 billion,” JPMorgan analyst Stephen Tusa told CNBC. 3M told CNBC that the estimate “Totally speculative.”

“We will continue to defend these cases. But the vast majority of these claims do not have complete information,” Rooker said.

In a legal bid to indemnify 3M, the company’s lawyers are trying to place its subsidiary Aearo Technologies in bankruptcy protection and set aside a $1 billion trust to settle the lawsuit. The military suing 3M accused the company of using bankruptcy to protect itself and asked a judge to dismiss the suit.

A ruling on the possible dismissal is due in April. Oral arguments on appeal in the preliminary bellwether trial are scheduled for May 1.

As for Frey, he expects his case to go to trial before the end of the year.

“It does piss me off,” Frey told CNBC, accusing 3M of “trying to escape responsibility for what they did by going bankrupt or through these arguments.”

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