A review of one of the largest mass torts in U.S. history.
The 3M Combat Arms earplugs litigation is currently one of the largest mass torts in U.S. history.
Nearly 300,000 service members and others have filed against 3M over its combat arms version 2 dual-sided earplugs which the U.S. military used from 2003 to 2015. The lawsuits claim 3M failed to disclose design flaws and released false test results.
On the other hand, the company maintains the earplugs had repeated tests and met expectations by the military and believes hearing loss can occur due to exposure to machine gunfire, explosions, and other loud sounds.
So far, juries have heard 11 bellwether trials out of the hundreds of thousands of lawsuits. 3M has won five of the bellwether cases, while plaintiffs have won six for a combined total of $160 million in damages.
Here’s a look back on how the litigation has grown over the last four years:
July 2018: Litigation begins with a whistleblower.
A whistleblower files a lawsuit under the False Claim Act’s whistleblower provisions, revealing allegations that 3M and its predecessor, Aearo Technologies, knowingly sold defective earplugs to the military. Around July 2018, 3M and the Department of Justice agreed to a $9.1 million settlement.
April 2019: Lawsuits are consolidated into an MDL.
Fast forward a year, and numerous claims for 3M’s combat earplugs are consolidated into an MDL in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Florida. The lawsuits allege that 3M’s defective earplugs result in hearing loss in military personnel and request further investigation into how the earplugs are designed and tested.
2021: 3M ends the year with $30M in combined damages.
In late May, 3M wins its first trial in the earplug lawsuit with a $1.7M verdict (later reduced to $1.1M for contributory negligence). 3M ended the year with seven cases going to trial and three juries siding with the company. The four juries awarded close to $30M of combined damages.
2022: Plaintiffs end trials with a win-loss record of 10-6.
This month, the 16th and final bellwether trial in 3M’s allegedly defective Combat Arms earplugs ended in favor of the plaintiff with a $77.5 million verdict, the largest sum awarded to date. The plaintiffs ended up with a win-loss record of 10-6 with combined damages of over $300 million.
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