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3M Company has been hit with another huge loss in an early “bellwether” trial over problems with military ear protection provided to service members between 2003 and 2015, after a federal jury determined late Friday that 3M is partially responsible for $1.7 million in damages suffered by one U.S. Army veteran.
There are currently more than 230,000 product liability lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system, each involving allegations that 3M Combat Arms earplug version 2 (CAEv2) were defective, and left U.S. service members with tinnitus, hearing loss and other ear problems.
Plaintiffs claim that 3M knew about issues with the ear protectors, which caused them to fall out and not properly seal the ear canal, yet the manufacturer continued to provide the ear plugs to the U.S. government without adequate instructions for service members being deployed.
To help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence that will be repeated throughout thousands of different claims, a series of early “bellwether” trials are currently being held in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, where the litigation is centralized before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
Following a massive verdict of $7.1 million awarded to three veterans in the first bellwether trial in late April, and a defense verdict in favor of 3M returned by a separate jury late last month, a third bellwether trial began on June 7, involving claims brought by Lloyd Baker.
Late Friday, the jury returned an award of $1.7 million, finding that 3M Company is liable for 62% of the damages, with Baker responsible for 38% of what happened to his hearing.
While 3M officials indicate they are exploring their appeal options, the loss sends a strong signal about the amount the company may need to spend in hearing loss settlements if it wants to avoid the need for thousands of individual cases to go before juries nationwide in the coming years.
Earlier this month, Judge Rodgers scheduled two additional bellwether trial dates in the MDL, setting “test” cases to before juries in September and October 2021. However, if 3M fails to show it can consistently defend the safety of its ear protectors at trial or otherwise resolve cases, the Court may begin remanding large numbers of cases to U.S. District Courts nationwide next year for additional trial dates.
The MDL established for all 3M ear protection lawsuits is currently the largest active mass tort litigation in the United States, and facing hundreds of thousands of cases that may need to go before juries nationwide, any settlement program would also likely be one of the largest ever seen in U.S. history, requiring tens of billions in compensation to be paid to military veterans.