Thanks to a whistleblower complaint, American soldiers won’t have to worry about their earbuds receiving permanent damage.
In July, earplug manufacturer 3M Co. agreed to pay $9.1 million in settlements with the US Military after allegations the company and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies Inc., knowingly sold defective products to the US Defense Logistics Agency. The claims also state the item in question failed to pass required safety tests.
The Defective Product
The dual-ended combat arms earplugs in question were not long enough for proper insertion, which resulted in imperceptible loosening and low performance for certain individuals. These products allow soldiers’ eardrums to be protected against the sounds emitted from gunfire and explosions while permitting users to hear normally.
For a soldier, this is a priceless commodity that allows them to communicate with fellow members of the force and be protected against any damage from concussive sounds.
In fact, hearing loss and Tinnitus are two prevalent disabilities for Veterans Affairs.
However, the recent court decision comes with an interesting backdrop involving a years-long feud between the whistleblower and 3M Co.
Unsealed court records disclose the whistleblower’s identity as Moldex-Metric, Inc.
Established in 1980 and producing items for hearing protection and respirators, the company has long been a competitor of 3M Co’s, and the controversy between them can be summed up in the word “nasty.”
For a decade, 3M Co. was the military’s go-to for combative earplugs. However, other businesses were catching up and surpassing the technology they offered. In 2011, Moldex-Metric, Inc. manufactured a similar product that the army purchased.
3M Co. lost a substantial amount of business with the change, and it didn’t take long before the company brought their competitor to court. For one year, 3M Co. pursued a case against Moldex-Metric, Inc. under allegations the business had infringed on a 3M patent. On the eve before the court hearing, 3M dropped the case.
A year passed before the companies were once more dueling it out in the legal system. Moldex-Metric, Inc. countersued 3M, asserting they knew the patent allegations were false and that the actions were a devised tactic to continue 3M’s monopolization of the market.
As of last year, the case was proceeding to a jury trial.
“Defective products pose a direct danger to consumers. In the case of military items, a malfunctioning product can literally mean the difference between life and death,” states Jason Hennessey, marketing consultant for Newsome Melton Law.
Although the case has been resolved, the feud continues.
Whistleblowers are entitled to a share of any won damages under the False Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue on behalf of the government. As a result, Moldex-Metric, Inc. will receive $1.911 million of the $9.1 million of settlement monies.
According to the Department of Justice, the claims resolved were based only on allegations and there have been no solid determinations concerning liability.
Even after the settlement, 3M Co. refuses to admit liability.