After losing three of the first four military earplug test trials in the largest mass tort litigation in the country, 3M has avoided the likelihood of settling future hearing damage claims for the time being after being cleared of fault during the fifth Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) trial.
The case of Michelle Blum is one of over 270,000 claims filed by veterans against 3M. According to Reuters, Blum allegedly developed hearing loss and tinnitus because of an imperceptible design flaw that caused the earplugs to fit too loosely and therefore failed to protect her hearing. Blum’s complaint stated that she wore the defective earplugs while serving in the U.S. Army Reserves, National Guard and Army between 1989 and 2009.
However, a jury found for 3M, which resulted in the following statement from Blum’s attorneys, per Reuters: “We continue to believe that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that 3M knew their CAEv2 earplugs were defective yet allowed our servicemembers who relied on them for hearing protection to suffer from preventable hearing loss and tinnitus.”
In the three test cases that have returned plaintiff verdicts, juries have awarded approximately $17 million in damages. In the first trial, three vets were awarded $7 million, collectively. After being cleared of fault in the second trial, 3M was hit with a $1.7 million partial fault (63%) plaintiff verdict, which amounts to a $1.1 award for the plaintiff. The fourth trial resulted in the largest plaintiff award, an $8 million judgement for one Army vet.
United States District Judge for the Northern District of Florida, Judge Casey Rogers, who is overseeing the consolidation of 3M cases, in August, ordered thousands of 3M earplug suits moved to the active docket.
Five trials have thus far been scheduled before the end of the year, with two scheduled to start today.
3M acquired the CAEv2 earplugs from Aearo Technologies in 2008. The hearing protection devices were supplied exclusively to the U.S. military from 2003-2015. After a 2018 whistleblower lawsuit over the design flaw in CAEv2 resulted in 3M settling with the U.S. Justice Department for $9 million, the floodgates for litigation opened, with tens of thousands of military veterans and defense contractors joining the class action.