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Attorneys previously appointed to serve in various leadership positions in the federal 3M Combat Arms earplug lawsuits have been directed by the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation to reapply for those positions, if they seek reappointment for a second year term.
There are currently about 7,000 product liability lawsuits filed against 3M Company and it’s Aearo Technologies subsidiary, each involving similar allegations that military veterans suffered hearing loss following use of Combat Arms earplugs, which were standard issue by the military between 2003 and 2015. However, as 3M earplug hearing loss lawyers continue to review and file complaints in the coming months, it is ultimately expected that tens of thousands of cases will be brought by former service members nationwide.
Given similar questions of fact and law presented in throughout the claims, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decided last year to centralize lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and serve the convenience of parties, witnesses and the judicial system.
In May 2019, Judge Rodgers appointed a group of 53 attorneys to serve in various leadership roles in the litigation, charging them with taking actions that benefit all veterans who are pursuing claims for hearing loss linked to product defects.
However, those appointments were for only one year. In a pretrial order (PDF) issued on March 18, Judge Rodgers advised the leadership team that they will have to reapply for those positions annually.
“All plaintiffs’ counsel who wish to apply for reappointment to their leadership positions must file an application on the 3M MDL docket detailing the nature and scope of their work over the past year, including the time and resources they have expended,” Judge Rodgers wrote. “An attorney who fails to timely file an application for reappointment will not be reappointed to his or her leadership position.”
The Judge indicated the reappointment applications should be no longer than two pages and must be filed before the close of business on April 22.
3M Combat Arms Earplug Problems
The reversible 3M earplugs were designed to serve as traditional earplugs when inserted one way, but the manufacturer indicated that they provided filtered noise reduction when reversed, blocking loud battlefield noises, while allowing the wearer to hear spoken commands. However, according to allegations raised in complaints filed nationwide, the manufacturer knew the earplugs were defective and left military service members without adequate ear protection.
Plaintiffs claim that the 3M earplug problems were known to the manufacturer, as they were too small to properly seal the ear canal. Instead of warning the military about the design defects or providing updated instructions about insertion procedures, the lawsuits claim that the manufacturer continued to place veterans at risk for years.
As part of the coordinated pretrial proceedings, Judge Rodgers has established a “bellwether” process, where a small group of representative claims will be prepared for early trial dates to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the litigation. However, if the parties fail to reach earplug hearing loss settlements or another resolution for the litigation, each claim may be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it would have originally been filed for individual trial dates in the future.