3M Should Face Earplug Lawsuits Despite Stay on Litigation While Court Mulls Subunit Bankruptcy, Veterans Say

Legal News

A small group of military veterans, 13 of 230,000 who have sued 3M over faulty earplugs that led to hearing damage or tinnitus, filed a motion to have their cases tried even though an October ruling has stayed (paused) all litigation over Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2) hearing protection devices. The earplugs, which 3M supplied to the U.S. government military from 2008, when it acquired the device’s original manufacturer, Aearo Technologies, until 2015.

A rival earplug maker filed a whistleblower lawsuit against 3M, alleging that the company knowingly provided the military with dual-ended earplugs that had a design flaw: an imperceptible loose fit that failed to protect veterans from loud noises on the battlefield or on training grounds. After 3M settled the lawsuit, veterans realized that their hearing damage may have been attributable to CAEv2. The multidistrict litigation (MDL; a consolidation of similar lawsuits in federal court) has ballooned into one of the biggest mass torts in U.S. history.

3M has already lost 10 out of 16 CAEv2 trials in the first wave of lawsuits (called “bellwether” trials, which help establish facts for future cases). Juries in the 10 plaintiff verdicts have awarded a collective $300 million in damages. The judge overseeing the MDL, Judge Casey Rodgers, ordered the parties in CAEv2 litigation to work on reaching a settlement. However, a short time after Judge Rodger’s order, 3M dumped its CAEv2 liabilities into Aearo and subsequently had the subunit file for bankruptcy protection.

An appeals court is currently ruling on whether 3M should be held liable independent of Aearo. But because of the stay issued, no 3M earplug trials can proceed, at least for now. The CAEv2 MDL is being adjudicated in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. If a settlement is not reached and 3M CAEv2 lawsuits are allowed to proceed, then Judge Rodgers may remand (send back) the lawsuits to district courts around the country.


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