The federal court overseeing personal injury lawsuits involving the 3M Company’s Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, has taken another step towards the multidistrict litigation’s first bellwether trials.
According to a Pretrial Order issued in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida, on February 27th, 25 individual 3M military earplugs lawsuits have been selected for the proceeding’s Initial Bellwether Trial Pool. The selections were made from both filed and pending claims and identified through the Court’s census program.
As per previous Pretrial Orders, parties in the bellwether trial pool cases must respond to written discovery by May 15th. Core discovery is set to conclude by July 31st. At that point, the presiding judge will establish four trial groups, each consisting of five cases. The five remaining claims will serve as alternates.
There are currently more than 5,200 3M military earplugs lawsuits pending in the multidistrict litigation underway in the Northern District of Florida. But according to a recent Bloomberg report, as many as 140,000 plaintiffs could eventually join the proceeding.
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.
In 2002, Aearo Technologies, Inc. won an exclusive contract to provide Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency. The 3M Company took over the contract upon 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, Version 2, to the United States military 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, they left users unprotected on the battlefield and needlessly exposed thousands of service men and women to an increased risk of permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.
Plaintiffs further assert that Aero and 3M were aware of these defects by 2000, but rather than warn users or take steps to mitigate the issues, the companies manipulated test results and falsely certified that Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, met all standard of the military contract.
The federal multidistrict litigation is tentatively scheduled to begin bellwether trials in April 2021. Verdicts in those cases could provide insight into how future juries might rule in similar 3M military earplugs lawsuits.