American conglomerate 3M, who has manufactured safety and other equipment for a wide array of industries since 1902, is currently facing multi-district litigation in Florida over their sale of Combat Arms Earplugs (CAEv2) to the U.S. Army. 3M’s legal battle in Florida has become the largest MDL in American history, and just one month in to 2022 it has shattered another record: a $110 million verdict against 3M.
Picture courtesy Guidebook
In 2008, 3M bought Aero Technologies and with it a government contract to develop earplugs for soldiers deployed in combat zones. These earplugs were to be dual ended so that one side would offer noise protection while the other end would allow soldiers to be able to hear quieter sounds, like commands from superiors or instructions, yet still have protection from dangerous, amplified noise levels.
After 3M developed and tested the earplugs, they found that the end of the earplug meant for complete noise protection was registering a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) that suggested not all noise was being blocked as intended. Furthermore, the end that was designed to offer partial noise isolation and meant to only let through commands from other soldiers was registering an NRR of -2. A negative NRR meant that that end of the earplug would actually amplify noise and do more harm to soldiers than wearing no protection at all.
After examining the results from their internal testing, 3M allegedly manipulated fitting procedures in order to meet the required NRR on the end of the earplug meant for complete protection; however, they did not re-test the end that amplified the noise and sold the earplugs as such. To make matters worse, after the sale, 3M purportedly did not disclose to the army neither the noise amplification of one side nor the newly developed fitting procedures to make the other end of the earplug work. As a result, the military was given an earplug that promised to protect the hearing of soldiers, but instead received a product that ultimately exposed the soldiers to more danger without their knowledge.
A Growing Problem
Picture courtesy blanchfield.tricare.mil Released/David E. Gillespie
Despite 3M’s attempt to avoid liability over their CAEv2, 3M has been unable to escape a multi-district litigation that continues to break records. Last fall, the Judge ruled that 3M was unable to rely on a statute of limitations argument, indicating that the jury should decide whether 3M concealed defects in their earplugs. Ultimately, 3M was found liable, resulting in a cumulative $17 million in damage awards across 4 bellwether trials. At the time, that was the largest award 3M had paid regarding their earplugs.
Only a few weeks ago, 3M has now been ordered to pay a record $110 million for just two plaintiffs, dwarfing the previous damage awards.
This massive damage award against 3M has experienced comes after an already problematic start to addressing claims over CAEv2 earplugs. In 2018, despite denying liability, 3M paid $9.1 million to the Department of Justice over allegations of at the CAEv2 in a whistleblower action brought by Moldex-Metric, Inc., a competitor of 3M, which contended that 3M’s predecessor, Aero, knew as early as 2000 that the CaEv2 was faulty. That award, however, did not compensate service members’ who may have been injured as a result of using the earplugs. As a result, more than 250,000 lawsuits have been filed, causing this to be the largest example of mass tort in history.
Let Us Serve You
If you suffer from hearing loss and/or tinnitus and served in the United States military or in the reserves between 2003 and 2015 or were a Department of Defense contractor during the same period, and used the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, you may be entitled to compensation.
Our team at Oppenheim Law recognizes the emotional burden these impairments can have on individuals and their lives. That is why our firm provides a team of professionals committed to zealously represent our clients.
From the Trenches,