A federal jury in Florida awarded $77.5 million in damages, including $72.5 million in punitive damages, to a former soldier who filed a claim alleging that his hearing loss resulted from defective 3M Co. earplugs. The case is the 16th bellwether trial in multidistrict litigation against the prominent corporation and may set the stage for other 3M earplug lawsuits currently in the pipeline as well as those that have yet to be filed.
If you were a service member and are suffering from the effects of tinnitus, including hearing loss, your condition may have been due to defective 3M earplugs. And given the recent decision out of Florida, now may be the best time to consider a 3M defective earplug claim. To learn more about how service members can pursue compensation for their hearing loss and other injuries, click here to view our recent post on the topic.
Service-Related Hearing Loss
Tinnitus is a common condition for many service members and military veterans. While there are several causes for tinnitus, in the military context, many cases stem from exposure to loud noises and head trauma. Although tinnitus may present as a temporary nuisance for some, the intensity of the condition can become debilitating for others.
Some typical symptoms of military-related hearing damage include difficulty sleeping, concentrating, and hearing certain sounds, consistent buzzing and ringing in the ears, and muffled speech.
As such, it is no surprise that the Veterans Benefits Administration reports that nearly 1.3 million veterans secured disability compensation for hearing loss, and over 2.3 million received compensation for tinnitus.
Are 3M Combat Earplugs Responsible for Service Members’ Hearing Loss?
In response to the growing concern of hearing loss and tinnitus, the United States government began providing earplugs to service members. The United States military contracted with Aearo Technologies to produce the Combat Arms version 2 (CAEv2) earplugs. About four years after the original contract, 3M acquired Aearo, effectively taking over the earplug contract. The company continues to assert that its non-linear, selective attenuation earplugs provide maximum protection from loud noises while allowing the wearer to hear quieter sounds. However, subsequent cases would indicate otherwise.
The Legal History of 3M Earplug Claims
The series of legal events for 3M was set in motion when Moldex-Metrick, a hearing protection product company, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the company. Moldex claimed that 3M’s earplug design could not effectively protect the user. Although 3M denied the False Claim Act allegations, they agreed to a settlement to resolve the claim.
Following the whistleblower settlement, current and former service members came forward in droves alleging injuries and damages related to the company’s earplugs. Thus, the 3M lawsuits have become one of the most significant mass tort matters.
The first 3M lawsuit to proceed to trial involved three plaintiffs who contended that the company’s earplugs caused their hearing loss. The bellwether trial ended in a $7.1 million verdict for the plaintiffs. 3M secured more favorable results in the second bellwether trial when the jury did not find the company liable for the plaintiff’s hearing loss. In the third bellwether trial, the jury found the company over 60% responsible for the veteran’s hearing loss and awarded the plaintiff $1.7 million in compensation. 3M was party to 16 bellwether trials, of which ten ended favorably for the plaintiffs and six in favor of 3M.
The Final Bellwether Earplug Trial Against 3M
The final bellwether trial involved a plaintiff who alleged negligence, misrepresentation, and other design defect claims against 3M. The case was the 16th and the final bellwether trial from an initial set of claims pulled from the multidistrict litigation.
In this case, the veteran argued that he suffered bilateral tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss due to the company’s defective earplugs. He explained that he suffered exposure to noise from various weapons while serving abroad between 2005 and 2009 and then as a reservist until 2011. The jury awarded the plaintiff $5 million in compensatory damages and $72.5 million in punitive damages.
The monumental verdict is the most significant single award made to a plaintiff in this series of lawsuits. 3M steadfastly stands behind its products and claims that its products were vetted and approved by the U.S. military. In support of its position, the company cites that two orders by the MDL judge dismissed more than 20,000 claims against the company.
Who Can Pursue Compensation Through a 3M Earplug Lawsuit?
While bellwether trials often indicate likely outcomes of future litigation, the legal environment is constantly changing. As such, the trajectory of these cases may change as the company becomes more willing to settle out of court. Regardless, the bellwether trials indicate, at a minimum, that juries are willing to consider service members’ claims.
Compensation for these cases depends on the plaintiff’s unique circumstances. Settlement factors and jury awards often depend on the extent of a plaintiff’s damages, including your need for future care, loss of earnings, and inability to perform activities of daily living. You may also be eligible for compensation related to your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment in life, and, possibly, punitive damages. Those with questions about how to pursue a 3M earplug lawsuit should reach out to a personal injury attorney for guidance.