Court Declares 3M Earplug Lawsuit Settlement Efforts at an “Impasse,” Terminating Further Mediation
Following months of mediation efforts to resolve thousands of 3M earplug lawsuits brought by military personnel left with hearing loss and tinnitus injuries, the U.S. District Judge presiding the litigation has declared settlement negotiations at an impasse, and terminated further court-ordered talks.
More than 230,000 U.S. veterans are currently pursuing a product liability lawsuit against 3M and its Aearo Technologies subsidiary, each raising similar allegations that they were left with permanent hearing damage after receiving 3M Combat Arms Earplugs as standard issue military equipment before deployments between 2004 and 2015. Plaintiffs allege the earplugs were sold to the U.S. government with a known design defect, which left veterans without adequate ear protectors during combat and training exercises.
The earplugs were initially developed by Aearo Technologies, which was acquired by 3M Company in 2008, and the entire Aearo hearing protection business was “upstreamed” into 3M, which continued to market and sell the defective earplugs to the U.S. government without disclosing known problems that caused them to commonly fall out of the ear canal.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in the litigation, all 3M earplug hearing loss lawsuits 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.
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Following a series of early bellwether verdicts in the litigation, where different juries painted a very clear picture about the extent of liability the company faces by awarding millions in damages at trial, 3M Company failed to offer earplug settlements that any plaintiffs would accept as compensation for permanent hearing damage caused by their product.
Instead of making a good faith attempt to resolve the litigation, 3M made the controversial decision last year to place its Aearo Technologies subsidiary into bankruptcy, and has attempted to force the litigation into the U.S. bankruptcy court, even though the multi-billion parent company sold and profited from the earplugs for years.
After several months of legal wrangling, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey J. Graham rejected a requested by 3M to stay the litigation during the bankruptcy proceedings in August 2022, indicating that cases against 3M Company will continue while the bankruptcy of Aearo technologies moves forward.
At nearly every step, 3M Company’s defense strategies have failed to turn the tide in the litigation, and actually led to sanctions against the company that prevent it from raising new, contradictory defenses.
Last month, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the federal civil litigation barred 3M Company from arguing that it was not independently responsible for the earplugs made by its Aearo subsidiary, suggesting that a recent shift in defense strategy was done in “bad faith” after nearly four years of failing to raise the argument, and the Court described the effort as a “brazen abuse of the litigation process.”
3M Earplug Lawsuit Settlement Negotiations
A series of 3M earplug settlement talks held in late September were previously described as “worthwhile and productive”, and the parties were ordered to continue to meet with a court-appointed mediator over the past few months to continue negotiations. However, reports suggest that 3M is more inclined to incur millions in legal defense costs than make good faith offers to resolve claims.
In a court order (PDF) issued on January 18, Judge Rodgers declared that further mediation efforts appear to be useless at this stage of the litigation, indicating that the MDL, bankruptcy and various appeals will proceed.
“3M has now advised the Court that it has no desire to reach a global resolution in the MDL and is absolutely determined to resolve all CAEv2 claims solely through the bankruptcy system,” Judge Rodgers wrote. “The MDL Plaintiffs Leadership, and also the CAEv2 Creditors Committee in the bankruptcy court, have advised the Court that they remain committed to an MDL settlement and categorically reject any bankruptcy-only resolution.”
As a result, Judge Rodgers has declared an “impasse” of the 3M earplug lawsuit settlement negotiations and has terminated mediation. Instead, the Court will focus on resolving remaining Daubert and summary judgment motions in a first wave of 500 cases being prepared for remand, so that the cases may be returned to their originating districts for trial after an appeals court rules on 3M’s interlocutory appeal of Judge Rodgers’ decision that it is independently liable, separate from its now bankrupt subsidiary.
February 2023 3M Earplug Lawsuit Update
While 3M Company is pursuing an interlocutory appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Judge Rodgers indicates that Special Master Randi Ellis can continue meeting informally with the parties as needed to determine if individual settlements can occur. However, there will be no further global mediation efforts.
“Hopefully as the MDL, the bankruptcy, and the various appeals proceed, all of which undoubtedly will take years to run their course, the intransigence on both sides will give way to a genuine commitment to negotiation reasonably and to meaningful compromises on both sides so that a just and mutually acceptable resolution of these matters may be achieved,” Judge Rodgers’ stated in the order. “Whether that resolution occurs in the MDL or in the bankruptcy system, this Court will support it and will remain available to assist where it makes sense.”
This week, Judge Rodgers also issued an order (PDF) setting a deadline of February 8, 2023, for a group of 552 plaintiffs to submit their final census forms. Otherwise, those cases will be dismissed with prejudice for failure to comply with long overdue deadlines.
If 3M Company fails to convince the appeals court to overturn Judge Rodgers’ prior ruling, it is expected to face a rapid pace of jury trials scheduled nationwide throughout 2024 and beyond. Prior estimates had suggested that the company would need to pay more than ten billion to settle the earplug lawsuits during early mediations. However, if the company loses on appeal, the settlement estimates are likely to increase dramatically.
WilliamJanuary 26, 2023 at 11:36 am
3M only cares about its bottom line. This is shameful as I can't afford good hearing aids until this is settled and I am offered a reasonable settlement. Until then I pray they are brought to their knees as I have been many nights wishing the ringing in my ears would go away and I could get a decent night's rest. I pray the 11th circuit Court of appeals sees through their greedy intent and throws[Show More]3M only cares about its bottom line. This is shameful as I can't afford good hearing aids until this is settled and I am offered a reasonable settlement. Until then I pray they are brought to their knees as I have been many nights wishing the ringing in my ears would go away and I could get a decent night's rest. I pray the 11th circuit Court of appeals sees through their greedy intent and throws this government contractor defense where it belongs in the trash! I can't wait to meet them in court and have my day to let the jury know how difficult life has been since using these earplugs that I thought would protect my hearing. Instead it has only caused me loss of many relationships, loss off self confidence, and loss of many of life's enjoyments. Shame on you 3M!
LarryJanuary 25, 2023 at 8:52 pm
Never going to see a dime.
FLOYDJanuary 20, 2023 at 8:50 pm
3m needs to stop paying for lawyer's and start working with the soldiers that loss hearing and suffering from that and tinnanitus. We fought for our country and this company got rich selling their crappy ear plugs and now not just me but a lot of my fellow brother and sisters in arm have to go through life deaf or wearing hearing aids to be able to hear our loved ones. Minimum they should pay 100,[Show More]3m needs to stop paying for lawyer's and start working with the soldiers that loss hearing and suffering from that and tinnanitus. We fought for our country and this company got rich selling their crappy ear plugs and now not just me but a lot of my fellow brother and sisters in arm have to go through life deaf or wearing hearing aids to be able to hear our loved ones. Minimum they should pay 100,000 for tinnanitus and 300,000 for loss of hearing along with an apology.
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