3M Wins 2nd Bellwether Trial in Faulty Earplug Suits

A Florida federal jury cleared 3M of liability in the second bellwether trial in one of the largest mass torts ever over claims its combat earplugs didn’t sufficiently protect U.S. military service members’ hearing.

3MPhoto Credit: Shutterstock

The jury rejected claims that 3M knowingly sold earplugs with design defects, causing hearing damage to Dustin McCombs, an Afghanistan veteran who experienced an IED explosion while deployed in 2009. That event was a catalyst of a severe tinnitus problem that worsened when McCombs was later stationed in Fort Richardson, Alaska. McComb claims the earplugs made by Aearo, 3M’s predecssor, were supposed to protect him better.

The first bellwether trial’s verdict in April was in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding 3 U.S. Army veterans $7.1 million — mostly in punitive damages.

3M became a force in the military earplug market when it purchased Aearo Technologies in 2008. Following a settlement in a 2018 whistleblower suit, waves of veterans’ claims poured in against 3M.

The three lead plaintiffs’ lawyers said in a joint statement, “While we are disappointed by the jury’s conclusion in this trial … we continue to believe that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that 3M knew their CAEv2 earplugs were defective, yet allowed our service members who relied on them for hearing protection to suffer from preventable hearing loss and tinnitus.”

3M has argued that the military bears responsibility for the way the earplugs were designed and delivered.

A spokeswoman for company said by email Saturday, “We are pleased with today’s verdict and will continue to vigorously defend ourselves in upcoming trials.” Haile-Selassie said the earplug “is and has always been safe and effective to use.”

A lawyer for the plaintiffs claimed, “The evidence is clear: 3M knew their earplugs were defective, yet they allowed our service members to suffer these life-altering injuries. 3M [has argued] in federal court that they should not be held liable for claimed injuries because of, among other reasons, the company is a government contractor. The Supreme Court has held that defense contractors have immunity from many state lawsuits when the government has a hand in designing or developing a device.”

At least 236,000 claims from military veterans are pending against 3M in federal court in Pensacola.

The third bellwether trial is set for June 7. The plaintiff, Lloyd Baker, says he got tinnitus after engaging in urban-warfare training at Fort Lewis in Washington state in 2005 and 2006, where he operated a 160-decibel M240 machine gun.

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