3M loses latest in series of military earplug cases

A $22.5 million jury verdict against 3M is the largest penalty yet in a series of trials over allegedly defective earplugs manufactured by the Maplewood-based company.

A federal jury in Tallahassee, Fla., late last week ruled in favor of Theodore Finley, who served in the U.S. Army from 2006 to 2014. Finley alleged that he developed bilateral tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss while wearing 3M-made earplugs as he worked around weapon fire, generators, mechanized vehicles, helicopters and during training and combat.

It was the eighth ruling in a series of bellwether trials against the company, and the fifth where the plaintiff prevailed. Three juries rejected all claims against 3M.

The trials are part of what may be the largest U.S. mass tort ever, with more than 250,000 veterans and military personnel alleging they suffered hearing loss while using the Combat Arms CAEv2 earplugs. The plaintiffs say 3M knew the earplugs were defective and that it failed to properly warn them of alleged flaws.

Bellwether Military Earplug Verdicts Underscores Importance of Establishing Government-Contractor Defense

In the most recent round of the long-running litigation over hearing protection supplied by manufacturing giant 3M and used by U.S. Military personnel from 2002 until 2015, Plaintiffs have obtained large verdicts in 3 out of 4 bellwether cases against 3M.

Case History

In July 2018, 3M reached a $9.1-million settlement with the Department of Justice in a False Claims Act lawsuit. Subsequently, hundreds of thousands of individual claims followed in courts across the United State, with Plaintiffs alleging that 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs (Version 2) were defective. In April 2019, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered that all earplug lawsuits against 3M pending in federal district courts would be transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida (the “MDL”).

Once in the MDL, 3M sought summary judgment based on the government-contractor defense announced by the Supreme Court in Boyle v. United Technologies Corp., 487 U.S. 500 (1988).  The government-contractor defense shields manufacturers from liability when: 

3M earplug cases sent to state court as federal bellwether dropped

3M Co has lost the latest in a series of bids to move lawsuits alleging that its combat earplugs caused hearing damages from Minnesota state court to federal court, which would have cleared the way for them to be sent to a multidistrict litigation in Florida.

U.S. District Judge John Tunheim in Minneapolis on Thursday ruled that he lacked jurisdiction over eight lawsuits, including dozens of plaintiffs, rejecting 3M’s arguments that its status as a U.S. military contractor allowed it to raise federal law defenses.

3M Wins Lawsuit Over Military-Issued Earplugs

A federal jury in Florida sided with earplug manufacturer 3M that the company’s product did not cause hearing loss for a veteran who used them while serving in the military.

The trial was the second of three scheduled this year that could impact the outcome of a lawsuit involving nearly 236,000 veterans who were issued the earplugs while in the service.

3M, a Minnesota-based company, lost the first trial April in which a jury awarded $7.1 million to three Army veterans who said they suffered from hearing loss and tinnitus because of the earplugs. The second trial involved one veteran, Dustin McCombs, with a similar lawsuit.

The jury on Friday determined 3M was not liable, negligent or fraudulent when selling earplugs to the military, according to court documents.

3M hit with $6MM punitive damages by U.S. jury in first combat earplug trial

3M Co was found liable on Friday for hearing damage suffered by three U.S. military veterans who accused the company of covering up design defects in its earplugs, a blow to 3M which faces more than 200,000 similar claims.

The jury awarded each of the plaintiffs $2.1 million in punitive damages and a total of $830,500 in compensatory damages for their medical expenses, lost earnings and pain and suffering.

The company was accused of hiding design flaws, fudging test results and failing to instruct the military in proper use of the earplugs, which were used by the Army between 2007 and 2013.

“The evidence is clear: 3M knew their earplugs were defective, yet they allowed our servicemembers to suffer these life-altering injuries,” said a statement from attorneys Bryan Aylstock and Christopher Seeger.

3M said in a statement it did not believe the plaintiffs met their burden in proving the plugs were defectively or negligently designed or that the plugs caused injuries. The company said it believed there were multiple grounds for appeal.

“We remain confident in our case and are ready to defend ourselves against plaintiffs’ allegations at the upcoming trials,” 3M said.

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