3M Earplug Hearing Loss Claim Results in Defense Verdict, As Mixed Results in Bellwether Trials Continue

Out of nine bellwether trials held so far, plaintiffs have won five of the 3M earplug hearing loss claims, while 3M Company has won four.

Days after a jury awarded tens of millions of damages for hearing loss from 3M earplugs, a different jury has returned a defense verdict in favor of the manufacturer, as early bellwether trials continue to deliver mixed results.

A Florida jury found in favor of 3M Company and it’s Aearo Technologies, LLC subsidiary late Wednesday, finding that the companies were not responsible for hearing problems experienced by a U.S. Army veteran after using the 3M Combat Arms earplugs, which were standard issue to all members of the military between 2003 and 2015.

The case is only the ninth bellwether claim to go before a jury, out of more than 280,000 3M earplug hearing loss lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system. While 3M has shown that it will win some cases, the majority of trials have resulted in victories for the plaintiffs, with combined verdicts in excess of $52 million awarded to seven former military service members left with hearing damage or tinnitus.

Each of the claims raise nearly identical allegations, indicating that 3M Combat Arms earplug version 2 (CAEv2) were defective, and commonly fell out of the ear, leaving users without adequate ear protection. The 3M earplugs featured a reversible design, which was supposed to block all sound when inserted one way, and provide selective filtering when reversed, to reduce loud impulse sounds will allowing users to hear spoken commands. However, lawsuits allege that 3M and Aearo Technologies failed to disclose problems with the earplugs, or provide adequate instructions on use.

The latest trial involved claims brought by Carlos A. Montero, which was one of an ongoing series of early “bellwether” trials, which were scheduled to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout thousands of other claims awaiting trial.

The defense verdict follows a trial earlier this month, which resulted in a $22.5 million award, including $15 million in punitive damages.

Other plaintiff victories have also resulted in massive damage awards, including $13 million in November 2021, $8.2 million in October 2021, $1.7 million in June 2021 and a combined verdict of $7.1 million for three veterans whose claims went before the same jury in April 2021.

Since the parties have not made any progress negotiating 3M earplug settlements to resolve claims, the federal judge presiding over the litigation has ordered the parties to begin preparing three large waves of cases for trial, including about 500 claims in each wave.

With only about 2,000 civil jury trials typically held nationwide each year throughout the federal court system, it is likely that Courts will combine large numbers of plaintiffs for consolidated trials to avoid taking decades to resolve the 3M earplug litigation.

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