On July 25, the Department of Justice announced in a press release that 3M Company (3M), St Paul, Minn, has agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) to the United States military without disclosing defects that hampered the effectiveness of the hearing protection device.

The settlement reportedly resolves allegations that 3M violated the False Claims Act by selling or causing to be sold defective earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency.  Specifically, United States ex rel. Moldex-Metric v. 3M Company alleged that 3M, and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies Inc, knew the CAEv2 was too short for proper insertion into users’ ears and that the earplugs could loosen imperceptibly and therefore did not perform well for certain individuals.  The United States further alleged that 3M did not disclose this design defect to the military. The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability, said the press release.

3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs

3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs

The allegations resolved by the settlement were brought in a lawsuit filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act.  The act permits private parties to sue on behalf of the government when they believe that defendants submitted false claims for government funds and to share in any recovery.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the whistleblower was Moldex-Metric, which has previously been involved in patent infringement lawsuits with 3M and had countersued the company for false statements about previous earplug models. Moldex had also previously alleged in lawsuits that the 3M dual-ended earplug didn’t pass certain safety tests which were part of its military contract.  As part of the case’s resolution, the whistleblower will receive $1,911,000.

“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 said in a press statement released on Thursday, “Settling the investigation into this discontinued product at this point allows the matter to no longer be a distraction to the business, and frees former and current 3M employees from having to go through the inconvenience of a protracted investigation and litigation. We take great pride in our products and this resolution is not an admission of liability, but simply a decision to move forward with our mission to provide high quality personal safety equipment products to our customers.”

Source: Department of Justice