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Hearing Loss Claims Related to 3M Earplugs

People join the military for a lot of different reasons. Some hope to develop particular types of job skills. Others are simply attracted to military life. Some people just want to represent their country. They all garner our admiration and respect for their essential service to the United States.

But it is probably fair to say that all military entrants expect top-notch training and resources. That includes the use of exceptional equipment and supplies. No one enters the service expecting to suffer injury due to defective equipment or poor conditions. But that is exactly what is alleged in the 3M earplug lawsuits we will discuss in this blog post.

What Earplugs Are at Issue?

3M Corporation and its subsidiary Aearo Technologies, Inc., supplied earplugs to the U.S. military from 2003 to 2015. The earplugs are called “Combat Arms Earplugs,” or CAEv2. These earplugs were used in training exercises filled with loud noises and by military personnel serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, plaintiffs in pending personal injury litigation contend that the earplugs were defective, leading to hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

Whistle-Blower Lawsuit

In 2016, a whistle-blower lawsuit against 3M alleged that 3M sold defective earplugs with the knowledge that they did not meet government standards. 3M denied liability, but in 2018 agreed to pay $9.1 million to the Department of Justice to resolve the False Claims Act allegations made against it.

Subsequent 3M Lawsuits

Almost 260,000 individual lawsuits are now pending against 3M. In fact, because there are so many related cases, they were centralized and transferred to one court in 2019 pursuant to the findings of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation. The panel noted that the3M  lawsuits generally claim that the allegedly defective earplugs caused Plaintiffs to suffer hearing loss and/or tinnitus. The panel also stated that the suits involve common factual questions “concerning the design, testing, sale, and marketing” of the earplugs.

3M’s Bankruptcy Strategy

In addition to vigorously defending lawsuits in court, 3M’s subsidiary filed a case in bankruptcy court. The idea is to resolve all the pending lawsuits, arguing in part that the suits are spiraling out of control. However, the bankruptcy judge dismissed the case in June 2023. The judge found that Aearo, the subsidiary of 3M, has a degree of financial security that does not warrant bankruptcy protection at this time.

Trial Results

According to Reuters, 16 cases involving these earplugs have gone to trial, with the plaintiffs winning ten trials and the defendants (3M) winning six trials. Reuters further reports that the plaintiffs have been awarded a combined total of $265 million.

What Comes Next?

Predicting litigation, especially in this scenario, is virtually impossible. It is reported that the trial judge is pushing the parties to pursue settlement. Of course, it is beneficial when parties can reach a negotiated resolution, which remains a possibility. Certainly, more cases can ultimately go to trial. As we learned from the Reuters report, some Plaintiffs have won significant awards, but the plaintiffs were denied recovery in some cases. Finally, we may not have heard the last of the bankruptcy efforts pursued by the defendants.

Call with Questions

If you have experienced hearing loss or injuries related to Combat Arms Earplugs, we would be happy to consult with you about your situation and determine whether you are in a position to make a claim. We can also help with other types of product liability claims. The lawyers at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield believe that the only way to keep society safe for all of us is by holding people responsible for the harm they cause. Please call us for a free consultation.