3M Earplug Bellwether Trial Underway

by Aaron Gartlan

April 27, 2021 | Defective Products

A Florida court is hearing the first lawsuits in one of the nation’s largest ever product liability mass tort cases. More than 200,000 military veterans allege they have suffered hearing loss because the 3M Company knowingly sold defective earplugs to the U.S. Army.

The lawsuits against 3M allege that its dual-ended Combat Arms™ Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) were too short to maintain a tight seal in the ear canal and could loosen imperceptibly while inserted in some users’ ears, rendering them useless as hearing protection.

A bellwether trial focusing on three veterans’ earplug injury claims is underway in federal district court in Pensacola, Florida. The federal court system often groups complex product liability cases with many separate claims into multi-district litigation to handle the cases more efficiently. Such cases commonly feature bellwether trials that allow each side to see how juries react to their respective evidence and arguments. The outcome of the trial could potentially help shape a settlement of thousands of cases.

“If any trials end in large plaintiff awards, 3M could face building momentum and pressure to settle,” says The Wall Street Journal. “A win in court by the company would likely extend the time before any resolution.”

Gartlan Injury Law Handling 3M Earplug Claims

Gartlan Injury Law wanted to provide this update about the bellwether trial on the 3M Earplug claims.

Hundreds of thousands of members of the U.S. military that deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were issued the Combat Arms Earplug Version 2 (CAEV2) as hearing protection from 2003 to 2015. Because of the earplugs’ design flaw, some users developed hearing loss, tinnitus, ringing in the ears, and loss of balance.

Gartlan Injury Law continues to review potential earplug injury claims for military service members and veterans from Fort Rucker and elsewhere in Alabama who have suffered hearing loss or deafness related to defective 3M Combat Arms earplugs.

As a former field artillery sergeant, attorney Aaron Gartlan recognizes the importance of reliable hearing protection. He also firmly believes that military contractors who sell defective products or fail to disclose safety issues with products should be held fully accountable.

Since the litigation began a year and a half ago, the legal team of Gartlan Injury Law has registered its clients’ defective earplugs claims with the Court and has been working toward resolving the pending claims. Numerous 3M documents have been reviewed, more than 24 experts have been deposed, and dozens of 3M witnesses have been deposed.

If you were issued 3M Combat Arms Earplugs while serving in a war zone or stateside and have since been diagnosed with hearing loss, you may be entitled to file a claim and seek compensation.

Our team is monitoring the bellwether cases and any settlement proposals that may grow out of them.

Earlier 3M Settlement Set Stage for Earplug Hearing Loss Claims

In 2008, 3M Company became a giant in the military earplug market when it bought Aearo Technologies, the developer of the Combat Arms Earplug Version 2 (CAEV2).

The green and yellow earplugs were issued to hundreds of thousands of service members to protect their hearing during combat in Afghanistan and Iraq and during training exercises at U.S. posts.

The hundreds of thousands of veterans’ earplug lawsuits followed 3M’s settlement of a 2018 whistleblower suit in which a rival earplug maker claimed Aearo knew about “dangerous design defects” in 2000. 3M paid a $9.1 million penalty to settle allegations that it knowingly sold the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 to the U.S. military without disclosing design defects. As part of the settlement, 3M did not admit liability.

That settlement opened the door for veterans to file individual claims against 3M and Aearo. There are more than 230,000 claims currently pending.

“The number of earplug plaintiffs dwarfs those currently alleging harm from any other product or drug, including weedkiller, baby powder, and blood thinners,” says The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), referencing other high profile product liability cases.

Veterans Claim Earplugs Were Defective

The earplugs’ design reflected features the military requested, 3M says in its defense. The U.S. government not only had input in the product’s creation but also was responsible for training soldiers to use them, 3M says.

3M says the U.S. Army asked Aearo Technologies to shorten the first-generation plugs “so they would fit in a standard-issue military carrying case.” 3M claims it informed the military of Aearo lab tests that revealed that the shorter earplug didn’t always function properly unless inserted in a particular way. This made it the military’s responsibility to train soldiers to properly insert the earplugs, 3M argues.

The U.S. Army is not a party to the lawsuits and the Defense Department has declined to comment on ongoing litigation, according to the WSJ.

In a 2018 report, the Army concluded that, had the government known about Aearo’s tests, it may not have purchased the CAEV2 earplugs.

Henry Blair, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minn., told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the more variance in bellwether trial outcomes, the more difficult it will be to settle the case. But ultimately, “they always settle around the bellwether,” he said.

Call Gartlan Injury Law

If you are a Gartlan Injury Law client, it is important that we have your current contact information. If you receive a call from Gartlan Injury Law or Heninger Garrison Davis Law Firm, please take the call.

If you have questions about a pending claim or your experience with Army-issued earplugs and hearing loss, call (334) 600-1393 or contact Gartlan Injury Law through our online contact form.

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Aaron Gartlan is a graduate of Troy University and the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law who focuses his practice exclusively on representing those injured by the wrongdoing of others. He is member of the National Trial Lawyers Association’s Top 100 Trial Lawyers, Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. In addition to his legal practice, Aaron teaches Business Law as an adjunct instructor at Troy University’s Sorrell College of Business and serves as a field artillery sergeant in the Alabama National Guard.

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