Nearly five months after 3M litigation over faulty combat earplugs kicked off in court, the nation’s largest multidistrict litigation is now closer to having more cases tried, after a federal judge ordered thousands of 3M cases to be moved to the active docket.
United States District Judge for the Northern District of Florida, Judge Casey Rogers, who is overseeing the consolidation of 3M cases—over 250,000 cases in all—in an attempt to alleviate a backlog of cases, called on veterans’ attorneys to move 1,358 cases in the first wave, then between 10,000 and 20,000 in subsequent orders, Stars and Stripes reported.
The lawsuits center around a design flaw in 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEV-2). Plaintiffs, comprising mostly of veterans as well as some active military members and defense contractors, allege the earplugs fit too loosely, albeit imperceptibly, causing them to unknowingly develop hearing loss and/or tinnitus.
In moving cases to the active docket, Judge Rogers hopes the order will accelerate the discovery process and the bellwether trials, which are hand-picked cases that help establish facts and precedent for future cases. If juries find that the defendant was at fault for causing harm to the plaintiffs and awards the plaintiffs significant monetary damages in the bellwether trial or trials, a settlement is likely to be reached between the class of plaintiffs and the defendant.
Three 3M earplug trials have gone to trial, with two out of three judgements going for plaintiffs. In the first bellwether trial, three plaintiffs were awarded a collective $7 million. In the second trial, a jury found that 3M was not responsible for a veteran’s hearing loss. And in the third 3M case that has reached trial, a jury found that 3M was responsible for 62% of the $1.7 million in damages an Army veteran sustained.
The U.S. military was supplied Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (V2) until 2015. In July 2018, 3M paid over $9 million to the Justice Department for selling CAEV2 to the military without disclosing the design defects. No portion of that settlement was allocated towards veterans or active military members.