Military Personnel Lawsuit Against 3M for Defective Combat Earplugs

3M Combat Earplugs

Former U.S. Army infantry officer Nathan Frei, who served actively from 2011 to 2015, recalls undergoing rigorous training involving loud noises such as gunfire and explosions, during which he relied on standard-issue earplugs made by 3M to protect his hearing.

Today, Frei is among more than 200,000 military personnel and veterans suing 3M, alleging that their Combat Arms earplugs were defective and failed to adequately safeguard against hearing loss and tinnitus.

“We used [the earplugs] every time that we were around loud noises,” Frei explained. “And I relied on that hearing protection during that time.”

Manufactured by Aearo Technologies and its parent company 3M from 2003 to 2015, the Combat Arms CAEv2 earplugs were issued to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, designed to provide two levels of protection: one for blocking all sound (green end) and another for reducing loud noises while allowing quieter sounds (yellow end).

“We were told that by wearing ‘whisper mode’ that we could still protect our hearing,” Frei recalled, noting that he began experiencing hearing issues, including ringing in his ears (tinnitus), soon after his service.

“As the years passed, the ringing got worse,” Frei lamented. “It’s constant — a loud ringing in my ears, very similar to just like a buzz noise.”

Frei shared Department of Veterans Affairs records confirming his diagnosis of tinnitus, a condition that occasionally disrupts his sleep.

3M Earplugs (Photo: Jay Price)

“I don’t look like somebody who probably should have as much hearing loss as I do at my age,” he remarked.

In response to the lawsuits, 3M’s attorney Eric Rucker defended the company’s position, stating that the Combat Arms earplugs were developed in collaboration with the military and underwent rigorous testing by various agencies, including the Air Force and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

“All of that testing shows the Combat Arms earplugs, when properly fitted and when used according to its instructions, work to protect people’s hearing,” Rucker asserted.

However, after a whistleblower lawsuit in 2016 and subsequent settlements, a wave of lawsuits followed from thousands of other service members, leading to consolidated litigation in Florida federal court — described as the largest mass tort in U.S. history.

Despite 3M’s claims of the earplugs’ safety and effectiveness, plaintiffs argue that the product failed to meet its intended purpose, resulting in significant hearing impairments.

Frei’s case is set to go to trial later this year, as legal proceedings continue to unfold amidst ongoing disputes over liability and compensation.

“It does make me mad,” Frei stated, accusing 3M of attempting to evade responsibility through legal maneuvers.

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