Three veterans who suffered hearing loss and other problems after using allegedly defective military combat earplugs manufactured by 3M Company have been awarded $7.1 million in damages by a federal jury in Florida. The jury award includes compensatory damages and several million dollars in punitive damages designed to punish 3M for failing to provide instructions for the proper use of the military earplugs or warnings about the potential for the earplugs to damage users’ hearing. If you or a loved one has experienced hearing loss, tinnitus, or another debilitating hearing problem you believe to be linked to defective 3M military combat earplugs, do not hesitate to call us for help. These kinds of hearing issues can be incredibly distressing for military veterans and their loved ones, and with the help of an experienced product liability lawyer, you may be able to hold 3M Company accountable for your losses.
The product at the center of the federal litigation in Florida is 3M Company’s Combat Arms Earplugs, version 2 (CAEv2), which were specifically designed for military use and were standard issue for the U.S. Army and other branches of the military from 2003 until 2015. The problem with 3M’s military earplugs appears to be the earplugs’ dual-ended design. If inserted in one direction, the football-shaped earplugs were meant to provide total noise cancellation for military servicemembers during combat and training exercises. If inserted in the other direction, the earplugs were meant to protect users from potentially harmful combat noises while still allowing them to hear spoken conversation, commands, and other low-level noises. However, an alleged defect in the earplugs’ design allowed the earplugs to gradually loosen during use, which meant they failed to provide the desired noise cancellation. 3M stopped selling the earplugs in 2015, but by then, the allegedly defective earplugs had already been used by tens of thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to a growing number of lawsuits filed in the federal court system, 3M Company sold its combat earplugs to the military for years without proper warnings about product defects that could put users at risk for hearing loss, noise-induced deafness, tinnitus, and other problems. The lawsuits have been consolidated in a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in Florida, and since the first lawsuit was brought against 3M over the company’s allegedly defective earplugs, the Combat Arms Earplug litigation has grown to more than 230,000 claims filed by veterans, military servicemembers and others who blame 3M’s earplugs for their hearing loss.
This recent lawsuit was the first to go to trial over the safety of the combat earplugs 3M sold to the U.S. military for more than a decade. The trial, held before a federal jury in Florida, was brought by three military veterans, two from Georgia and one from Kentucky. The trial lasted a little over a month and ended in a jury verdict totaling $7.1 million, which includes compensatory damages intended to cover each plaintiff’s medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, plus $2.1 million in punitive damages awarded to each plaintiff for 3M’s reckless disregard for the safety of U.S. military servicemembers. The case was the first of at least three “bellwether” trials, which are used as a gauge to determine how juries can be expected to respond to similar testimony and evidence that will be presented throughout the litigation.
The verdict in this first 3M earplugs case comes as a big win for the plaintiffs and gives the manufacturer an idea of the massive liability it could face if it fails to negotiate settlements for veterans and military servicemembers who used the earplugs between 2003 and 2015 and suffered hearing loss and other hearing problems. Despite a growing number of claims alleging that 3M knew its earplugs were defective yet continued supplying them to the U.S. military for years for use in combat and training exercises, the company stands by the safety of the discontinued earplugs. In fact, 3M has already announced plans to appeal this recent jury verdict, claiming that the plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of proving that the “product was defectively or negligently designed” or that it caused their injuries. In the meantime, the company faces two other 3M earplug bellwether trials, each involving just one veteran’s claim, which are set to begin on May 17 and on June 7.