The federal court overseeing thousands of lawsuits involving the 3M Company’s Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, has issued a new order governing the adoption of the Master and Short Form Complaints.
Just under 2,300 Combat Arms Earplugs lawsuits are currently pending in the U.S. District Court, Northern District Florida. All of the cases were filed on behalf of former active duty military personnel who developed permanent hearing loss and/or tinnitus due to the allegedly defective nature of 3M’s military earplugs.
According to Pretrial Order No. 17 dated October 16th, the parties have agreed to the use of Master and Short-Form Complaints in light of the large number of cases filed to date, and the large number likely to be filed in the future. The Master Complaint was filed on behalf of all plaintiffs, and asserts all allegations common to 3M military earplugs lawsuits. The Short Form Complaint is an abbreviated version of the Master Complaint and will be completed by each plaintiff in lieu of a stand-alone complaint.
Plaintiffs who already filed 3M military earplugs lawsuits in the multidistrict litigaton must complete a Short Form Complaint within 20 days of the date of the Order.
Any plaintiff who joins the multidistrict litigtation through either direct filing and assignment, or by transfer from another district, must submit a Short Form Complaint within 20 days of the assignment or transfer.
All future 3M military earplugs lawsuits filed directly in the litigation must utilize the Short Form Complaint.
“There must be a separate Short Form Complaint filed for each individual plaintiff. No plaintiff may directly file a non-short form complaint in this MDL,” the Order states. “In the event that any plaintiff was a member of a multi-plaintiff complaint prior to transfer this MDL, each plaintiff must file a separate short form complaint under a separate docket number.”
Finally, the Order directs all defendants named in the Master Complaint to file a Master Answer with the Court by October 31, 2019.
Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 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 became a party to the contract after acquiring Aearo in 2008.
From 2003 through 2015, Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were standard issue for all United States’ active duty personnel participating in live-fire training exercises or on combat deployments. When the dual-ended earplugs’ green end was inserted, the devices blocked all sound in the manner of traditional earplugs. The 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 plaintiffs, 3M’s military earplugs were actually too short to fit properly in certain individuals, could loosen without the wearer even noticing, and likely caused thousands of United States military personnel to suffering permanent hearing loss and/or tinnitus.
In July 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice reached a $9.1 million settlement with the 3M Company to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold defective Combat Arms Earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency for over a decade. While the allegations echo those at the center of the current litigation, the settlement agreement did not require the company to admit liability and did not include provisions for compensating any service members who may have been harmed by Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2.