Army Vet Awarded Largest 3M Earplug Verdict — Over $22 Million

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The verdict in the eighth Combat Arms Earplug version 2 (CAEv2) trial was returned Friday, when a federal jury in Florida awarded U.S. Army vet Theodore Finley $22.5 million for hearing damage he sustained while serving in the Army from 2006 to 2014. 

Finley’s case is one of more than 270,000 similar ones made mostly by former service members who have alleged that 3M’s dual-ended military earplugs had a design flaw that caused them to develop either hearing damage and/or tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. 

The cases are consolidated in multidistrict litigation in the U.S. District Court of Northern Florida. Finley’s was the eighth bellwether case, which are alternately hand-picked by the defense and the plaintiffs to establish the facts of similar future cases, and to determine the likelihood of a future settlement. 

3M has lost six of the first nine cases that have been presented in trial. The first Combat Arms earplug trial was a consolidation of three different plaintiffs’ cases. In that trial, a jury awarded the three vets a collective $7.1 million in damages. All seven other bellwether trials have involved just one plaintiff’s case. A jury returned a verdict for 3M in the second, fifth and sixth trials. In the seventh trial, a jury awarded an Army vet the second largest verdict: $13 million. 

There are approximately eight more bellwether trials scheduled, with the next two trial dates slated for next month. 

Juries that have returned plaintiff verdicts have found that 3M was fraudulent, negligent and liable for the defective earplugs, according to reporting by Stars and Stripes.

3M acquired CAEv2 from the original manufacturer, Aearo Technologies in 2008. Plaintiffs allege in their claims that Aearo Technologies knew as early as 2000 about the defect in CAEv2 that caused the earplugs to fit improperly. 3M previously tried to resolve the lawsuits against it by using the contractor defense strategy, but a judge rejected the argument. 

3M issued CAEv2 to the U.S. military until 2015. In 2018, the company settled a whistleblower lawsuit filed on behalf of the U.S. government by a competitor earplug manufacturer. To resolve the lawsuit, 3M paid over $9 million to the Justice Department. This settlement paved the way for what is now the largest mass tort in history.

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