Pensacola jury awards $7.1 million in bellwether case over defective 3M military earplugs

Category: 3M Earplugs

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More than 230,000 military members and veterans could receive millions in damages against 3M Co. after a Pensacola jury found the multinational corporation liable for hearing loss from defective earplugs the company sold the military for 12 years.

A jury on Friday awarded more than $7.1 million in damages to three former service members from Kentucky and Georgia in the first “bellwether trial” of a massive and complex lawsuit against the company.

If the verdict stands — and if similar verdicts are reached in more bellwether trials — 3M could pay out millions to service members who used the Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2).

3M and its subsidiary Aearo Technologies sold the earplugs to the Department of Defense from 2003 to 2015, and they became the standard-issue earplug for troops serving on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan.

A lawsuit alleges manufacturer 3M supplied defective earplugs to the U.S. military and caused hearing damage to thousands of service members, veterans and civilians.
The football-shaped earplugs were designed to block out all sound when inserted one way and allow spoken sounds through when inserted the other way. But according to the lawsuit, 3M withheld critical information on their proper usage from the government.

During a 2016 whistleblower lawsuit against 3M, documents revealed 3M knew about the design flaws of the product. In the 2016 suit, 3M settled with the government and paid $9.1 million without having to admit any liability.

The 2016 lawsuit led to the current suit filed in U.S. District Court in Pensacola. The lawsuit alleges service members and civilian contractors who used the earplugs suffered permanent hearing loss while believing they were being protected by 3M’s earplugs.

The lawsuit is what is known as a multi-district litigation (MDL) mass tort, where each person with a claim must file with the court. The case has drawn more than 230,000 plaintiffs, becoming the largest MDL mass tort in U.S. history.

To handle so many plaintiffs, the court selects a few to go to full trial, known as bellwether trials, to see if the claims will stand up before a jury, and if proven, how much in damages a jury will award.

On Friday, a jury in Pensacola found that 3M was liable in the first of at least three planned bellwether trials. After a five-week trial, the jury awarded the plaintiffs, Lewis Keefer and Luke Estes, both from Georgia, and Stephen Hacker, who is from Kentucky, a combined total of $7.1 million.

Estes was awarded $36,000 for medical expenses, $147,500 for lost earnings, $167,000 for pain and suffering and $2.1 million for punitive damages against 3M.

Keefer was awarded $40,000 for medical expenses, $120,000 for lost earnings, $160,000 for pain and suffering and $2.1 million for punitive damages against 3M.

Hacker was awarded $160,000 for pain and suffering and $2.1 million for punitive damages against 3M.

3M and its attorneys have argued that the earplug was designed to government specifications and was not defective.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs — Bryan Aylstock in Pensacola; Shelley Hutson in Houston, Texas; and Christopher Seeger in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey — said the plaintiffs showed bravery by serving their country and now standing up against 3M.

“The evidence is clear: 3M knew their earplugs were defective, yet they allowed our servicemembers to suffer these life-altering injuries,” the statement said. “We look forward to beginning the second bellwether trial on May 17, and to fully holding 3M accountable for the damage they have caused to those who served our nation.”

The additional trials also will take place in Pensacola.

3M issued a statement after the verdict saying it remains confident in its case and is ready to defend itself in the other upcoming trials. The statement added it believed there were multiple grounds to appeal the verdict in this case.

“We do not believe the plaintiffs met their burden of proving that the CAEv2 product was defectively or negligently designed or caused each plaintiff’s purported injuries,” the 3M statement said. “While we are disappointed and disagree with today’s verdicts, they are just the first step in this litigation.”

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