If you have a military background, or if someone you love has served in the military, you may have heard about 3M Combat Arms earplugs. If so, you’ll recall that potentially hundreds of thousands of soldiers suffered tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or permanent hearing loss/damage because of these faulty earplugs.
Perhaps, like us, you’re following this injustice and keeping up with the latest in the media. After all, the 3M earplug litigation is the largest mass tort in American history. At present, there are over 250,000 pending lawsuits, which have been filed by military service members who suffered hearing loss or damage as a result of the 3M earplugs.
Here’s a quick recap of what’s happened so far, where the lawsuits are at today, and what we can expect into 2023.
The story so far
The 3M Combat Arms Version 2 Earplugs are dual-ended earplugs that were issued by the US military to service members between 2003 and 2015. 3M Company (“3M”) had an exclusive contract with the US military, via the Department of Defense, to provide earplugs to service members. A company called Aearo Technologies originally manufactured the earplugs. 3M purchased Aearo in 2007, after which Aearo manufactured the earplugs as a subsidiary of 3M.
The US government, with the help of a whistleblower, sued 3M under the False Claims Act. The primary allegation in the suit was that the earplugs were too short for ear insertion, which could cause the earplugs to loosen in the ear without the wearer knowing it. The result was that the wearer did not have protection from loud noises, such as aircraft, gunshots, or explosions. The suit alleged that 3M and Aearo knew the earplugs were unsafe while selling the earplugs to the government and that neither company warned the government that the earplugs were not protecting service members. Ultimately, in 2018, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to the US government to settle the case. However, this suit did not compensate those who had been injured by the earplugs.
In 2019, military veterans claiming to have suffered hearing loss from the defective earplugs filed the first personal injury lawsuits against 3M and Aearo. Those lawsuits accumulated in federal court until they were consolidated in 2020 into what is called an MDL (multi-district litigation) proceeding in a federal court in Florida.
In 2020, a small number of cases were selected for bellwether trials. The first of these trials, in 2021, resulted in a $7.1 million verdict for the plaintiffs. The second bellwether trial resulted in success for 3M, and the court awarded nothing. The third and fourth bellwether trials resulted in big wins for the plaintiffs.
As with all major lawsuits of this complexity, the 3M lawsuits have played out with many twists and turns. Victims have expressed frustration at the pace of the proceedings.
In May 2022, the final 3M bellwether trial concluded. In that trial, a jury awarded army veteran James Beal $77.5 million in damages for his claims that the defective earplugs caused him hearing loss and tinnitus. In total, juries have awarded service members nearly $300 million for the injuries they suffered because of the faulty earplugs.
In July 2022 Aearo Technologies filed for bankruptcy in Indiana. 3M urged the bankruptcy judge in Indiana to pause the personal injury litigation in Florida during the bankruptcy. The bankruptcy judge denied this request, but Aearo and 3M appealed the decision. It is possible that the appeal could ultimately reach the United States Supreme Court.
Settlement talks began soon after 3M’s request to pause the litigation was denied.
What does the future hold for these lawsuits?
It is expected – and hoped- that a settlement will be reached in 2023.
Most likely, the settlement values will be less than the amounts awarded in the bellwether trials. While the values in those settlements may be lower than the trial awards, those participating in the settlement will not have to face the uncertainty and delay of trials and appeals.
Veterans, like all of our clients, deserve justice. We’re grateful to those who have served our country, and we’re proud to stand up for the military.
Let’s hear it for justice
At Yaeger Law, we understand the devastating effect that the 3M Combat earplugs had on military personnel, and we are actively investigating cases. We have years of experience in mass tort litigation, through which we have gained the knowledge and skills to help those who have been impacted by defective drugs and medical devices.
Together, we will hear the sound of victory.