Hundreds of product liability lawsuits involving the 3M Company’s allegedly defective Combat Arms Earplugs are beginning to move forward in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida.
According to a Pretrial Order dated April 5th, the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs litigation will convene an Initial Conference on Wednesday, April 17th, at 9:00 a.m. The Court will address a number of matters at that time, including the proceeding’s leadership structure and the possible use of bellwether trials.
Prior to the Conference, the parties’ attorneys were each to submit a brief written statement outlining their views on the primary facts, claims, and defenses involved in the litigation, as well as the critical factual and legal issues. The Court further indicated that the statements should identify:
The 3M Combat Arms earplugs litigation currently includes just 18 lawsuits, all of which were filed on behalf of United States military veterans suffering from service-related hearing loss and/or tinnitus. However, more than 600 additional cases pending in U.S. District Courts nationwide will likely be transferred to the Northern District of Florida, as will any future filings.
The pending lawsuits involve 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, which were standard issue for all United States servicemen and women serving in combat zones or participating in live-fire training exercises between 2002 and 2015. The reversible earplugs’ yellow side purportedly blocked damaging impact sounds typically encountered during combat, but allowed the user to hear battle commands and other low-level noises. The green end performed like a traditional earplug, and blocked all sound.
In 2018, the 3M Company agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold defective Combat Arms Earplugs to the United States military in violation of the federal False Claims Act. However, the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice did not require 3M to admit liability or take any steps to compensate veterans who might have been harmed by the earplugs.
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) agreed to centralize all federally-filed 3M Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuits in the Northern District of Florida on April 3rd, after finding that the cases shared common issues of fact and would benefit from coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings.
Each Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuit will maintain its individual identity throughout the course of the centralized proceeding, and each will be judged on its own merits. Any case that’s not resolved by the time the litigation concludes will return to its original court of filing for further proceedings and trial.
At some point, the judge overseeing the 3M Combat Arms Earplugs litigation could designate several representative lawsuits for early bellwether trials. Such trials are intended to test the strength of plaintiffs’ claims and could provide insight into how other juries might decide similar cases.