A jury in a federal court in Gainesville, FL returned a $2.2 million award in favor of a U.S. Army veteran who alleged that his hearing damage was caused by military earplugs sold by 3M and its subsidiary, Aearo Technologies.
The judgment for Jonathon Vaughn, reached April 29, marks the ninth trial loss for 3M. Juries have returned six verdicts in favor of 3M. A total of 12 plaintiffs in the nine cases 3M has lost have been awarded a total of over $222 million. The largest award was issued in the 11th trial, a $110 million decision for two veterans whose cases were so similar that they were consolidated into one trial. In the first trial, three veterans had their cases consolidated and were awarded $7.1 million, collectively.
Although the trial was held in Florida, it was tried under Colorado law because Vaughn is a resident there. Colorado puts a cap on damage awards. 3M said that because of the cap, Vaughn’s award will be reduced to $700,000. The company also said that it will appeal the decision.
According to the Minnesota-based, Star Tribune, Vaughn’s attorneys maintain that because 3M engaged in consumer fraud, it will need to cover Vaughn’s attorneys’ fees, which with interest will likely result in a payment exceeding $2 million.
Maplewood, MN-based 3M is facing almost 300,000 earplug lawsuits in what has become the nation’s largest mass tort.
Tens of thousands of cases have been ordered to prepare for trial, and if no settlement has been reached by the end of this month, when the last trial in the first round of bellwether trials is expected to conclude, the U.S. judge presiding over the federally-consolidated cases (in a multidistrict litigation or MDL in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida) will send the cases back to courts where they were originally filed. Up to 500 cases would be tried at once.
Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2) was the only earplug available to U.S. military personnel from 2003 until 2012. In 2007, 3M bought out the original manufacturer of CAEv2, a company called Aearo Technologies, which is also named as a defendant in the massive MDL. In 2016, one year after CAEv2 stopped being sold to the U.S. military, a whistleblower lawsuit filed by another earplug manufacturer—Moldex-Metric—called attention to a design flaw in CAEv2.
Most military veterans who suffered hearing damage during training or combat in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were unaware that their hearing loss and/or tinnitus was caused by the earplugs until a whistleblower lawsuit was filed. 3M settled the suit with the U.S. Department of Justice for $9.1 million in 2018.
3M has argued in court that the U.S. military should shoulder some of the liability because it worked with 3M in the design of the earplugs and distributed it to veterans, but a judge rejected 3M’s military contractor defense strategy