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.
Settlement Conference Set for July 15th
On Friday, June 10th, 2022, 3M Earplugs MDL Judge Casey Rogers issued an Order that will require the parties in the 3M earplug lawsuit to participate in settlement mediation. The Order requires the mediation to be scheduled by July 15th, 2022, and to last for at least three days. It also appointed Randi S. Ellis as special master, who will oversee the negotiations.
In the Order, Judge Rogers noted the massive burden the earplug lawsuits have placed on the federal court system and explained that a settlement would help bring relief. The purpose of these negotiations is to “resolve as many cases as possible.”
Currently, there are approximately 233,000 cases in multidistrict litigation. If there is no settlement, the cases will be returned to their home districts for trials in large waves of 500 at a time. As of now, there are currently 1,500 active cases that have been sent for trial prep for 2023.
While there are no guarantees, 3M’s skyrocketing litigation costs may cause the company to be more agreeable to a settlement. However, whether it will actually come to fruition remains to be seen.
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 ear plugs, 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.
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 these 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.