3M was ordered by a federal jury in Florida to pay a U.S. Army veteran $77.5 million for hearing damage he sustained using allegedly defective military earplugs developed by Aearo Technologies, a company 3M acquired in 2008.
The verdict for plaintiff U.S. Army veteran, James Beal, returned May 20, marks the largest award for a single plaintiff in the sprawling Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2) multidistrict litigation (MDL), which with over 290,000 plaintiffs, has become the nation’s largest mass tort in U.S. history.
Beal’s trial was the 16th and final test case in the initial phase of the litigation. 3M has been completely cleared of liability by juries in six trials, and was found partly or completely liable in the other 10 trials. In just one trial was 3M found partially liable; juries in the other nine plaintiff verdicts found the company 100% liable for veterans’ hearing damage either in the form of hearing loss or tinnitus.
The $77.5 million award is the second highest in the MDL. The 11th trial ended with a $110 million award for two plaintiffs (Sloan and Wayman). Thirteen plaintiffs have been awarded just under $300 million. (The first test trial consolidated three veterans’ cases. The Sloan/Wayman trial was the other multi-plaintiff trial.)
3M has not hinted that it would resolve the MDL with a settlement. The company announced that it would appeal the Beal decision. Judge Casey Rodgers, who is overseeing the 3M earplug MDL, ordered over 20,000 cases to the active docket from the administrative docket. If a settlement is not reached, hundreds of cases could be tried at once in the next phase of the litigation.
CAEv2 military earplugs were the only hearing-protection device that U.S. military personnel had access to from 2003 until 2012. Those specific earplugs were sold to the Department of Defense until 2015. Most plaintiffs in the MDL served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and were exposed to loud noises during live combat or training. The dual-ended earplugs allegedly had a design flaw that caused the device to slip out of the ear without the user’s knowledge.
A whistleblower lawsuit by a competitor earplug manufacturer allerted the government to the fact that 3M and its subsidiary were aware of the design flaw yet continued to sell the device to the military at a substantial profit.