Court Outlines Plaintiffs’ Leadership Structure for 3M Military Earplugs Litigation

Published on April 23, 2019 by Sandy Liebhard

Hundreds of product liability claims involving the 3M Company’s allegedly defective Combat Arms Earplugs continue to move forward in the U.S. District, Northern District of Florida.

According to an Order dated April 19th, the plaintiffs’ leadership structure will consist of lead counsel, liaison counsel, an executive committee, steering committee, and various subcommittees.

Any attorney representing plaintiffs in the 3M military earplugs litigation may apply for a leadership position. Those submissions are due by May 3rd, after which an unspecified number of applicants will be invited to make oral presentations before the Court on May 20th and 21st.

3M Military Earplugs Litigation

More than 600 United States veterans have filed lawsuits blaming 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, for service-related hearing loss and tinnitus.

The reversible, dual-ended earplugs were standard for all issue military personnel serving in combat or taking part in live-fire training exercises between 2002 and 2015. They featured a yellow end that blocked damaging impact sounds typically encountered on the battlefield, but allowed the user to hear commands and other low-level noises. The earplugs’ green end performed like a traditional earplug, and blocked all sound.

Last July, 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 fault or compensate veterans who might have been harmed because of the earplugs’ alleged defects.

Leadership Activities to Benefit All 3M Military Earplugs Plaintiffs

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) created the 3M military earplugs litigation on April 3rd, after finding that the veterans’ cases shared common issues of fact and would benefit from coordinated discovery and other pretrial proceedings. Any similar Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuits filed in federal courts in the future will likely be transferred to the Northern District of Florida as well.

Attorneys who serve in leadership roles will argue motions, take depositions, review discovery documents, and engage in other activities that benefit all plaintiffs involved in the proceeding. However, each 3M military earplugs lawsuit will retain its own identity and any case-specific matters will remain the responsibility of a plaintiff’s individual lawyer.

At some point, the Court 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. Any case that’s not resolved by the time the 3M military earplugs litigation concludes will return to its original court of filing for further proceedings and trial.

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