The federal court overseeing thousands of personal injury lawsuits involving the 3M Company’s Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, intends to convene the litigation’s first bellwether trial in April 2021.
There are currently more than 5,200 3M military earplugs lawsuits undergoing consolidated pretrial proceedings in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida. However, according to a recent Bloomberg report, as many as 139,000 U.S. military veterans have filed or are preparing to file claims in the proceeding.
All of the pending lawsuits allege that 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were defective and caused users to develop permanent hearing loss and/or tinnitus. The litigation’s bellwether trials are intended to function as test cases, and their verdicts could provide insight into how other juries might decide similar 3M military earplugs lawsuits.
According an Order issued in the Northern District of Florida on February 11th, the initial bellwether case selection process for 3M military earplugs lawsuits will be complete on February 25th. The parties are to present a proposed schedule for case-specific discovery and the filing of Daubert and dispositive motions when the Court convenes its next Case Management Conference on February 21st.
Assuming at least 20 bellwether cases remain after case-specific discovery and dispositive motions practice, the Court will randomly select four pools of five cases each to proceed with bellwether trials. The first bellwether trial(s) will be held in April 2021, with Daubert and dispositive motions due in January 2021.
The Order further notes that the Court is considering consolidating some 3M Military Earplugs lawsuits for trial, while letting others proceed individually. The parties will be permitted an opportunity to brief the consolidation issue before a final decision is made.
3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were standard issue for all branches of the U.S. military from 2003 through 2015. The dual-ended earplugs were reversible, with the green end designed to block all sound, similar to a traditional earplug. 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.
The earplugs were developed by Aearo Technologies, Inc., which won an exclusive contract to provide military earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency in 2002. The 3M Company began supplying the earplugs in accordance with the contract after acquiring Aearo in 2008.
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.
All of the lawsuits pending in the Northern District of Florida similarly allege that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 were too short to fit certain individuals, failed to form a protective seal, and could loosen without the wearer even noticing. As a result, the earplugs failed to protect users during combat situations and exposed thousands of active duty personnel to an unnecessary risk of hearing loss and tinnitus.