Judge Requires 3M CEO Attend Combat Arms Earplug Settlement Negotiation Session
With negotiations reaching a “critical juncture”, the U.S. District Judge presiding over all Combat Arms Earplug lawsuits filed in federal courts nationwide has ordered 3M Company CEO Mike Roman to attend settlement talks aimed at resolving hundreds of thousands of claims of hearing damage.
More than 230,000 U.S. veterans are currently pursuing lawsuits against 3M Company and its Aearo Technologies subsidiary, each raising similar allegations that they were left with permanent hearing damage after receiving Combat Arms Earplug during military service, which were standard issue before all deployments between 2003 and 2015.
Plaintiffs allege that 3M sold the earplugs to the U.S. government, knowing they contained a design defect that left service members without adequate ear protectors during combat and training exercises. As a result, veterans seek financial compensation and settlements for hearing loss and tinnitus they have experienced since their military service.
Although juries have returned millions in damage awards during early bellwether trials, 3M earplug settlement negotiations have failed to reach any offer that veterans would accept as fair compensation to resolve large numbers of claims, and the size of the litigation has continued to increase.
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Given common questions of fact and law raised in the litigation, all claims have been centralized for the past three and a half years before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, as part of an MDL or multidistrict litigation.
3M has attempted to defend the safety of the earplugs, and appealed each of the early verdicts. However, even after it became clear that it was unable to reliably convince juries that the earplugs were not to blame for hearing loss suffered by nearly a dozen plaintiffs, 3M derailed settlement negotiations by making the controversial decision to place its Aearo Technologies subsidiary into bankruptcy, attempting to force the litigation through the U.S. bankruptcy court, even though the multi-billion parent company is well funded, and directly profited from the earplugs for years.
3M CEO Ordered to Attend Settlement Talks
After declaring settlement talks between 3M and earplug hearing loss plaintiffs were at an impasse in January 2023, Judge Rodgers ordered settlement negotiations to again proceed earlier this month, requiring the parties to resume participation in mediation sessions in good faith.
In a court order (PDF) issued on May 19, Judge Rodgers called for 3M CEO Mike Roman to participate in upcoming talks scheduled for this Thursday and Friday. She said the negotiations have reached a “critical juncture where the most senior party representative leaders must be present.”
“Sometimes, the nature and demands of a situation are far-reaching and consequential enough that the leader must be in the room,” Judge Rodgers wrote. “This is one of those times.”
Roman has been ordered to personally attend the negotiations, listen and engage directly, so that he can properly inform his Board of Directors of the potential for global resolution and the current state of negotiations.
3M Earplug Hearing Loss Trials to Resume If No Settlement Reached
While 3M Company has continued to defend the Aearo Technologies bankruptcy maneuver, it has already faced a number of set backs, after judges found that the earplug hearing loss lawsuits can move forward against 3M for it’s independent liability in manufacturing and selling the product for years.
3M is pursuing an appeal of that ruling, and challenging the trial courts decision to reject their government contractor defense. However, if 3M is unsuccessful with the appeals, it is expected that the entire litigation will quickly get back underway, with a rapid pace of jury trials scheduled nationwide.
Judge Rodgers has begun preparations to start remanding large waves of cases to federal courts nationwide for trial once the issues surrounding the bankruptcy and appeals from the early bellwether trials are resolved.
Prior estimates had suggested the company would need to pay more than ten billion to settle the earplug lawsuits during early mediations. However, if the Aearo bankruptcy is dismissed and the company loses issues on appeal, the settlement estimates are likely to increase dramatically.
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