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Without admitting liability, 3M Co. has agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle allegations that it supplied the U.S. military with defective earplugs, Department of Justice officials announced late Thursday.

The settlement, which involves the second version of 3M's "dual-ended combat arms earplugs" (CAEv2), resolves a whistleblower's allegations that 3M violated the federal False Claims Act by selling defective earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, Justice officials said in a statement.

"Specifically, the United States 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 statement said.

The allegations were initially brought up in a 2016 lawsuit filed by a whistleblower, one recently identified (via unsealed court records) as the earplug maker Moldex-Metric Inc.

3M and Moldex-Metric have sued each other over several years. 3M accused Moldex of infringing on several of its earplug patents, while Moldex countersued, accusing 3M of lying and falsely making allegations about earplug products that predated 3M versions.

Moldex further alleged in its lawsuits that a 3M dual-ended earplug had failed to pass certain safety tests, which violated its military sales contracts.

In its statement Thursday, Justice Department officials said that part of 3M's $9.1 million settlement would be awarded beyond the government. "As part of today's resolution, the whistleblower will receive $1.911 million," the statement said. Justice officials could not immediately be reached for comment regarding the settlement.

3M responded to the Justice settlement news with a statement.

"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."

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725