The 3M Company has lost the first bellwether trial involving its Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, which allegedly caused thousands of United States military veterans to suffer permanent hearing loss and tinnitus.
The trial concluded Friday in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida, following a little over one month of testimony. According to court documents, the jury hearing the lawsuit agreed that the 3M military earplugs were defective and responsible for three plaintiffs’ hearing loss.
Each was awarded $830,500 in compensatory damages and $2.1 million in punitive damages, bringing the total judgment against 3M to 7.1 million. Juries award punitive damages to punish defendants for wrongful conduct.
“The evidence is clear: 3M knew their earplugs were defective, yet they allowed our servicemembers to suffer these life-altering injuries,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a statement issued after the verdict was rendered.
Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2, were standard issue for all U.S. active-duty military personnel serving on combat deployments or taking part in live-fire training exercises from 2002 through 2015. The devices were designed and developed by Aearo Technologies, which was granted an exclusive contract to supply protective earplugs to the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency in 2002. The 3M Company acquired Aearo in 2008, at which time it became responsible for the administration of the military contract.
The CAEV2 design was dual-ended and reversible depending on the level of protection a wearer required. When the green end was inserted into the ear canal, they blocked all sound in the manner of traditional earplugs. The yellow end was supposed to prevent eardrum damage from gunfire, explosions, and other concussive noises typically encountered during combat while allowing spoken commands and other low-level noises to be heard.
3M now faces more than 220,000 military earplugs lawsuits that have been centralized before a single judge in the Northern District of Florida.
All plaintiffs similarly allege that their use of CAEV2 while on active duty from 2003 through 2015 resulted in service-related hearing loss and tinnitus. Among other things, they assert that the earplugs were too short to fit properly in certain individuals and failed to form the necessary protective seal when in use. While these defects were allegedly known to the defendants as early as 2000, Aero and 3M falsely certified that the earplugs met all standards of the military contract and failed to instruct the military in their proper use.
The trial that concluded last week was considered a bellwether case and was intended to provide some insight into how other juries might rule in similar military earplugs lawsuits. The litigation’s next bellwether trial is scheduled to begin on May 21st.