A federal judge in Florida has decided to allow all class action lawsuits and individual personal injury claims involving the 3M Company’s Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, to proceed on a single litigation track.
There are currently more than 2,000 3M military earplugs lawsuits pending in the multidistrict litigation underway in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida. The majority were filed on behalf of United States military veterans who allegedly developed permanent hearing loss and tinnitus due to design defects inherent in Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2.
However, the litigation also includes several class action complaints that seek medical monitoring and other damages for anyone who used the earplugs.
Class action lawyers had motioned the Court for a two-track litigation in May, arguing that the significant differences between the individual military earplugs lawsuits and class action cases warranted a separate plaintiffs’ leadership structure.
But other plaintiffs’ attorneys were opposed to a two-track litigation, as were lawyers for the defense.
U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers ultimately rejected the two-track litigation proposal in an Order dated September 3rd, writing that the request was premature at this time. But she did not rule out establishing a two-track proceeding as some point in the future.
“Once the first phase of discovery is complete, the Court will entertain dispositive motions on the federal defenses, if any. If the litigation survives summary judgment on the federal defenses, it may then become appropriate to consider establishing a separate class action track,” she wrote. “At this stage, however, the interests of the individual and putative class claimants are the same.”
Combat Arms Earplugs were developed by Aearo Technologies, Inc., which won an exclusive contract to provide the military earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency in 2002. The 3M Company took on that contract after acquiring Aearo in 2008.
From 2003 through 2015, 3M military earplugs were standard issue for all United States’ active duty personnel participating in live-fire training exercises or deployed to combat operations around the world. When the green end was inserted, Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, blocked all sound., similar to a traditional earplug. However, the reversible earplugs’ yellow end was intended to protect the eardrum from concussive sounds commonly encountered in combat, while allowing the wearer to hear battlefield commands and other low-level noises.
But according to 3M military earplugs lawsuits, this design was actually defective and left thousands of servicemen and woman unprotected on the battlefield. Specifically, plaintiffs assert that the earplugs were too short to fit properly in certain individuals and could loosen without the wearer even noticing.
The lawsuits further charge that Aearo Technologies and the 3M Company had long been aware of these alleged defects. But rather than correct the problems, disclose them to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, or provide users with instructions for mitigating the issues, the plaintiffs claim the defendants manipulated test results and falsely certified that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, met all standards of the military contract.
As a result, countless active duty service members were allegedly exposed to an unacceptable risk of permanent hearing loss and tinnitus while serving their country.