A Florida jury’s $1.7 million judgment in favor of the plaintiff on June 18, 2021, handed The 3M Company its second defeat in bellwether trials over hearing loss alleged to have resulted from the company’s earplugs.
That’s more bad news for 3M, which won the second bellwether trial, according to Bloomberg Industry Group, but was on the losing side of a $7.1 million verdict in the first trial, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
However, it’s good news for the 240,000 plaintiffs—current and former U.S. service members who suffered hearing loss and tinnitus—whose 3M earplug lawsuits are still in progress. The case has now become the largest mass tort matter in the United States.
At the center of this mass tort lawsuit are the company’s Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2), sold to the military to protect service members’ hearing upon exposure to machine gun fire, explosions, and other loud sounds.
The earplugs were made with a dual-end design. One end was intended to reduce noise while still allowing service members to hear orders and communicate. The other end was meant to offer protection from the loudest and most intense noises on the battlefield.
That’s not what happened, the lawsuits allege. Instead, hundreds of thousands of service members developed hearing loss or tinnitus, a sensation that involves ringing, roaring, or buzzing in the ears, and they blame 3M’s earplugs.
Jurors in this third bellwether trial determined that the combat earplugs could shift out of the user’s ear canal, exposing them to the dangerously loud sounds from which they should have been protected—and that 3M knew of and failed to warn about this problem, the Daily Hornet news site reported.
The CAEv2 earplugs were in use in both Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 until 3M discontinued the product in 2015, according to Reuters. In 2018, 3M agreed to a $9.1 million settlement with the United States Department of Justice over allegations that the company violated the False Claims Act by knowingly selling the Defense Logistics Agency defective earplugs.
It’s difficult to overstate the impact that combat earplugs that fail to perform as expected can have on the men and women who serve our country. During the time these 3M earplugs were standard issue, upwards of 2 million service members were deployed, according to Reuters. Further, Reuters noted, hearing damage is the leading cause of disability claims reported to Veterans’ Affairs.
Only a few 3M earplug trials—called bellwether trials and intended to serve as an indicator of what to expect from future litigation—have been resolved so far. As of June 2021, four plaintiffs involved in 3M earplug bellwether cases have been awarded a total of $8.8 million.
These seven-figure awards won’t necessarily be the case for further lawsuits. Often, companies involved in mass tort matters will become more willing to settle claims out of court if early trials yield high awards in favor of the plaintiff. Settlements tend to be lower than jury awards, although they don’t present the same risk of losing a trial and walking away with nothing.
What you can expect from a 3M earplug payout is compensation for your economic and non-economic damages, which may include:
A 2016 lawsuit filed by a whistleblower alleged that 3M had violated the False Claims Act by selling to the Defense Logistics Agency earplugs with a known design defect that, in the Department of Justice’s words, “hampered the effectiveness” of the device.
In July 2018, the Department of Justice announced that 3M had agreed to a $9.1 million payment to settle these allegations. However, 3M was not required to admit liability as part of the settlement.
From 2018 onward, such a volume of current and former service members have filed lawsuits against 3M that the case has become the largest mass tort matter in the history of the United States, Reuters reported.
Think you may have a case? There’s still time to sign up for a 3M earplug lawsuit. 3M earplug attorneys are still reviewing new cases at no cost to veterans and current service members. Legal representation for 3M earplug hearing loss claims is provided on a no-win, no-fee basis, so it costs nothing to move forward with a claim.
The first 3M lawsuit to go to trial presented the case of three plaintiffs—Lewis Keefer, Luke Estes, and Stephen Hacker—who alleged that 3M’s combat earplugs caused their hearing loss. The jury ultimately awarded the three plaintiffs a total of $7.1 million, according to the Daily Hornet.
3M fared better in the second bellwether trial than in the first. According to Bloomberg Industry Group, the jury in this May federal trial did not find liability on the part of 3M for the hearing loss suffered by veteran Dustin McCombs.
In the third bellwether trial, the jury found 3M 62 percent responsible for the hearing loss and tinnitus sustained by veteran Lloyd Baker, who had served as an infantryman and machine gun operator. They awarded Baker, who was diagnosed with hearing loss in 2009, $1.7 million in compensation, according to the Daily Hornet.