Just days after a federal jury in Florida awarded an Army vet over $22 million for hearing damage claims, juries in the last two 3M Combat Arms Earplug version 2 (CAEv2) trials have returned defense verdicts.
On December 20, a federal jury in Pensacola cleared 3M of liability for the hearing damage sustained by plaintiff and U.S. Army veteran, Carter Sterling. Sterling’s case was the 10th bellwether trial, or test trial, in the nation’s largest mass tort, in which over 270,000 individuals—mostly former U.S. military personnel—have filed lawsuits against 3M, accusing the company of negligence for a design flaw that failed to protect soldier’s hearing in battle and in training.
Five days prior to the Sterling verdict, a jury cleared 3M of liability in the 9th bellwether trial, which litigated the case of U.S. Army veteran Carlos A. Montero.
Out of the 10 trials, 3M has won five trials. The first bellwether trial consolidated three different cases. In that trial, the three plaintiffs were each awarded over $2 million. 3M won at trial in the second, fifth and sixth trials.
On December 10, a jury found 3M responsible for the hearing damage sustained by US Army vet Theodore Finley. Finley served in the U.S.Army from 2006 to 2014. A federal jury where the multidistrict litigation is assigned—the U.S. District Court of Northern Florida—awarded Finley $22.5 million in damages.
Aearo Technologies is also named as a defendant in 3M earplug lawsuits. The company has been a subsidiary of 3M since 2008. Plaintiffs allege that as early as 2000, Aearo had become aware of a design flaw in CAEv2 that was imperceptible to soldiers.
The design flaw caused the military-issued earplugs to fit too loosely in order to properly protect the soldiers’ hearing. 3M allegedly knew about the design flaw but failed to notify the military, plaintiffs’ complaints allege.
3M has tried to shoulder some of the blame on the U.S. military for the product defect. Moreover, as a military defense contractor, 3M tried to persuade a judge that it is immune from liability. However, the judge overseeing the sprawling litigation rejected that defense.
The number of 3M lawsuits exploded after another earplug manufacturer filed a whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of the federal government in 2018. 3M settled the lawsuit by paying the Justice Department $9 million.
In earplug trials, 3M has accused veterans of not doing anything about their hearing damage for many years. Veterans have countered that they didn’t realize their hearing damage or tinnitus was caused by the allegedly defective earplugs.