Between 2002 and 2015, the Federal Department of Defense deployed millions of American military service members - and civilians - overseas to fight the war on terror. These individuals were issued dual-ended military-grade earplugs made by 3M as part of their personal protective equipment. It is alleged that these earplugs were defective, resulting in an insecure fit that resulted in hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing of the ears) for over two million American service members.
After more than three and a half years of litigation, juries have heard 16 bellwether trials and have awarded plaintiffs millions of dollars in damages. Since then, thousands more 3M earplug lawsuits have been consolidated in a Florida federal court to ensure adequate case management for so many affected US veterans.
In July of 2022, Aearo Technologies, the 3M subsidiary responsible for making the defective earplugs, declared bankruptcy. Following this move, 3M attempted to move all earplug lawsuits into the bankruptcy system despite having billions of dollars in assets available to cover the claims. In August of 2022, a federal bankruptcy judge rejected this attempt and ruled that 3M must continue facing the hearing loss lawsuits while Aearo Technologies goes through bankruptcy proceedings.
In October of 2022, 3M took a new approach, now arguing that the company cannot be held independently liable for the earplug injuries. Instead, it argues that liability should be apportioned between 3M and Aearo, its wholly-owned subsidiary. In response, hundreds of plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment against 3M, seeking to prevent the company from using this new strategy.
On October 27th, Judge Rodgers paused deadlines on all four waves of cases until this issue is resolved, indicating that she plans to issue a decision regarding the liability soon. These stays will create further delays in the litigation process. However, Judge Rogers also ordered the parties to continue fully engaging in ongoing settlement negotiations while the stay on waves is in process. While a settlement continues to be a possibility, only time will tell.
Currently, more than 230,000 U.S. military veterans are pursuing defective product lawsuits against 3M. If you are a Veteran and believe you may have a claim against 3M that you have not yet pursued, get in touch with us today. We can evaluate your hearing loss or damage case and help you move forward in joining litigation and seeking compensation for your loss.
3M Ordered to Pay Millions in 3M Ear Plug Lawsuits
In what has become the largest consolidated mass tort in history, 3M Co. has been ordered to pay plaintiffs millions of dollars in damages for allegations that their faulty earplugs caused tinnitus and hearing loss among U.S. service members. Plaintiffs allege that the company deliberately hid design flaws, failed to provide proper instructions on how to use the earplugs, and manipulated test results.
Now that a series of 16 bellwether trials have been completed, what's next for 3M Inc. and the remaining plaintiffs? Here’s what you need to know.
What is a Bellwether Trial?
Large mass tort litigations often involve thousands of plaintiffs with virtually the same allegations against a single defendant. Since it's not physically possible to take every claim to trial, the courts hear a far smaller number of sample cases, called bellwether trials.
Bellwether trials are essentially "test" cases and are common practice in multidistrict litigation (MDL) defective product trials. The outcome of these cases helps to determine the settlement compensation payout victims might be able to expect if their case were to go to trial. This helps attorneys from both sides facilitate productive settlement negotiations.
15th Bellwether Trial Results in $2.2 Million Award
In April of 2022, the 15th bellwether 3M trial resulted in a victory for plaintiff Jonathan Vaughn, who was awarded $2.2 million in compensatory damage. While this was one of the smaller awards among the 3M bellwether trials, it was still a solid win.
It’s worth noting that all of the damages were for “pain and suffering,” with nothing being awarded for lost income or medical expenses. The only bright spot for 3M was that the jury failed to award any punitive damages. However, they did reject all of 3M’s affirmative defenses.
16th Bellwether Trial Results in $77.5 Million Award
The 16th and final bellwether trial concluded on May 20th, 2022, with a massive $77.5 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff, Army veteran James Beal. This was the largest award by far and included $72.5 million in punitive damages. It was a major blow to 3M, not only due to the financial impact of this case but also for how it may set the stage for the other lawsuits that are currently in the pipeline and those that have yet to be filed.
During the series of bellwether trials, juries found in favor of the plaintiffs in 10 of the 16 cases. Total damages awarded were over $300 million, resulting in an average payout of $30 million per trial.
Cases Dismissed for Lack of Documentation
While all of this is potentially good news for veterans who have suffered hearing loss due to faulty 3M earplugs, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. In May of 2022, the judge dismissed over 20,000 cases based on the plaintiff’s failure to produce documentation to support their claims. In the majority of cases, the documentation missing was their official military service records.
This may seem like a major setback, but it could serve to strengthen cases for the remaining plaintiffs. To date, one of the roadblocks keeping 3M from settling has been the sheer number of plaintiffs. The company says it believes that many of the plaintiffs do not have legitimate claims. This move helps ensure that only military veterans who have actually been harmed by 3M's defective earplugs will receive settlement compensation.
If you’re considering filing a 3M earplug lawsuit, you’ll need to make sure you can provide the following documentation:
- Military active-duty record
- Veterans Affairs (VA) record
- DD 214 Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty
In addition, you’ll want to provide any medical evidence you may have to help support your claims.
July 15th Settlement Conference and Bankruptcy Declaration
On Friday, June 10th, 2022, 3M Earplugs MDL Judge Casey Rogers issued an Order requiring the parties in the 3M earplug lawsuit to participate in settlement mediation. The Order required the mediation to be scheduled by July 15th, 2022, and to last for at least three days. It also appointed Randi S. Ellis as a special master to oversee the negotiations.
These negotiations did not result in a settlement, and on July 26th, 3M announced that it was placing Aearo Technologies, the wholly owned subsidiary responsible for making the earplugs, into bankruptcy. The company asked the bankruptcy court to pause the litigation, but the requests were denied.
In August of 2022, a federal bankruptcy judge ruled that 3M must continue facing the hearing loss lawsuits while Aearo Technologies goes through the bankruptcy process. At that time, all parties were directed to continue preparing for trial.
3M Raises New Defenses for the First Time
Following its failed attempt to skirt liability by initiating bankruptcy procedures, 3M has now shifted its stance, suddenly arguing that it is not “independently liable” for the earplug-related hearing loss and tinnitus injuries.
Despite not having brought up this defense during any of the bellwether trials, the company now states that liability must be apportioned between 3M and Aearo Technologies. Plaintiffs object, arguing that the company should not be able to raise this new defense at this point in the process and that successor liability law should result in finding 3M independently liable.
In early October of 2022, hundreds of plaintiffs who were to be part of the first wave of claims filed a motion for summary judgment against 3M, seeking to prevent the company from using this new defense. U.S. District Judge Rodgers issued a scathing court order, announcing that all four waves of cases would be paused until this issue is resolved. She is expected to issue a ruling on it in the very near future.
In the meantime, Judge Rodgers has also ordered all parties to continue fully engaging in ongoing negotiations while the waves are paused. Beginning in November of 2022, the parties are ordered to convene for monthly settlement conferences at the United States District Court, and the judge has ordered them to make a “good faith effort” in these negotiations.
What Comes Next?
If you are a U.S. military veteran who served between 2003 and 2015, you regularly used 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, and you have been diagnosed with hearing damage, you may be eligible to file a veteran hearing loss lawsuit against 3M Inc.
Given the results of the recent bellwether cases, now may be the best time to consider filing a 3M earplug lawsuit. However, to establish a case, it will be necessary to provide valid medical evidence substantiating that your hearing-related injuries stemmed from the usage of defective 3M earplugs.
Depending on the damages you’ve sustained, you may be able to sue for medical expenses related to your hearing loss and associated illnesses, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment in life, and punitive damages. If you’re thinking about filing a claim, you’ll want to take action soon, as you may be limited by the statute of limitations in your state.
To learn whether you may be eligible to file a lawsuit against 3M, complete our free case evaluation form. We’ll review your information and reach out to you to discuss your options.