A Florida federal jury has hit manufacturer 3M with a $7.1 Million verdict in the first bellwether trial of a multidistrict litigation hearing involving 3M's earplugs and their widespread impact on the U.S. military.
Now discontinued, the Dual-Ended Combat Arms™ (CAEv2) earplugs were once standard issue for soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq between 2003 and 2015. Their dual-ended design was meant to protect soldiers' hearing from loud blasts and combat noise while still allowing them to hear each other on the battlefield.
But the design didn't work, according to lawsuits brought against 3M and the device’s predecessor, Aearo Technologies. The companies reportedly knew as early as 2000, when the earplugs failed to pass safety tests, that they were too short for proper insertion, easily loosed, and could subject soldiers to permanent hearing damage. Still, 3M released the product anyway.
Accordingly, the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency unknowingly distributed the defective earplugs to thousands of service members, including the three plaintiffs in this first of many trials to come.
In the bellwether trial, three former service members claimed, as in other 3M lawsuits, that 3M and Aearo's equipment failed to protect against tinnitus and hearing loss — and because of this, their hearing was irreparably harmed.
The jury agreed that the companies failed to warn about the product's defects and awarded $2.1 Million in punitive damage to each of the plaintiffs.
The jury awarded another $160,000 to one of the claimants for pain and suffering, and another $350,500 and $320,000 to the other two, respectively, for medical costs, lost earnings, and pain and suffering.
What Does This Mean for Future 3M Earplug Lawsuits?
The verdict comes after a 5-week trial and repeated attempts by 3M to call for a mistrial. 3M stands by the safety of its earplugs and puts the onus on the military for the way the earplugs were designed and delivered — yet the U.S. District Judge countered that the military cannot be held responsible for the design or safety warnings of the product.
Given 3M's dissent, experts are cautious in reminding us that this is only the beginning of the multidistrict litigation. These were the first three of as many as 240,000 total claims — a number that far exceeds those against other defective products, including weed killer and baby powder.
However, there is hope that these plaintiffs will inspire others to come forward and shape the outcome of future cases. No one should have to face irreversible injuries as a result of a faulty product.