After a 10-day trial, a federal jury in Florida sided with a U.S. Army veteran, finding that 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2) was to blame for severe tinnitus and hearing damage. The $50 million judgment, announced March 25 and awarded to Luke Vilsmeyer, a former Green Beret, is the third consecutive earplug trial that 3M has lost and the second-largest award in what has become the nation’s largest mass tort, involving over 280,000 hearing damage claims, filed mostly by former U.S. service members.
Vilsmeyer served in the military for 21 years. His $50 million award all comes in the form of compensatory damages. In January, a jury awarded two veterans a collective $110 million, which is the largest plaintiff verdict that has been returned to date in the 13 CAEv2 trials that have concluded. 3M has lost eight of those trials.
In the eight plaintiff verdicts, a total of 11 plaintiffs have been awarded more than $200 million in compensation. In the first bellwether or test trial, three veterans with similar claims had their cases consolidated in one jury trial and the jury returned a $7.1 million verdict for the veterans. 3M has appealed that decision as well as the $110 million verdict. The company also announced that it would appeal Vilsmeyer’s verdict.
The federal consolidation of 3M earplug claims into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) occurred in 2019. The first bellwether trial took place in May 2021. The next 3M earplug trial—Denise Kelley v. 3M, Aearo Technologies—started earlier today before Judge Thomas Barber in Pensacola. Most of the other trials were presided over by the judge overseeing the MDL, Judge Casey Rodgers. Kelley’s trial is the second case involving a female plaintiff to be adjudicated thus far in the MDL. Her case is expected to take 10 business days to conclude.
Having flown under the radar was the twelfth 3M trial, which concluded just days earlier and returned a $8 million verdict for veteran Steven Wilkerson.
3M acquired Aearo Technologies—a co-defendant in the earplug MDL—in 2008. CAEv2 was sold to the U.S. military from 2003 until 2015. A whistleblower lawsuit filed by a rival earplug maker sounded the alarm on the alleged design flaw of CAEv2. 3M settled the lawsuit with the U.S. government for $9.1 million in 2018.
The settlement resolved allegations that 3M knowingly sold a defective product to the U.S. military. After the settlement, soldiers who served overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan became increasingly aware of the connection between their hearing damage and the imperceptible design flaw of the dual-ended CAEv2. 3M has argued at trial that the government is to blame for approving the design and disseminating the earplugs to the veterans.
Judge Rogers has ordered counsel on both sides in hundreds of additional CAEv2 cases to prepare for trial. Thus far, 3M has not hinted of any plans to resolve the litigation with a settlement. The company’s valuation has taken a $33 billion hit because of earplug and PFAS chemical lawsuits.