3M Earplug Problems Result in Another Massive Verdict, With $22.5M Jury Award Including Punitive Damages

Largest individual plaintiff win to date includes $15 million in punitive damages the jury leveled at 3M Company.

A federal jury in Florida has returned the largest verdict yet over 3M earplug problems, indicating that a U.S. Army veteran left with hearing loss and tinnitus should be paid $22.5 million, including punitive damages since the manufacturer disregarded the safety of military service members.

The case is only the eighth 3M earplug claim to go before a jury, out of more than 280,000 product liability lawsuits pending throughout the federal court system, with plaintiffs now receiving combined verdicts in excess of $52 million.

Each of the claims raise nearly identical allegations, indicating that 3M Combat Arms earplug version 2 (CAEv2) provided as standard issue during military service were defective, and caused users to suffer permanent hearing loss, tinnitus and other ear problems.

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 the earplugs commonly fell out of the ear, leaving military service members without ear protection.

To help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence that will be repeated throughout thousands of different claims of 3M earplug problems, 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.

The trial, which concluded on Friday, involved a lawsuit filed by Theodore Finley, a former U.S. Army soldier who was awarded $7.5 million in compensatory damages, as well as an additional $15 million in punitive damages designed to punish the company for recklessly endangering U.S. service men and women working to defend the country.

The victory comes on the heels of another plaintiff win in November, where a U.S. Army Sergeant was awarded $13 million. Earlier trials ended with verdicts of $8.2 million verdict in October 2021, $1.7 million verdict 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, late last month Judge Rodgers identified about 500 cases that represent a first “wave” of claims to be prepared for trial and remanded back to their originating federal district court. At last two other “wave orders” are expected in the coming months, each involving about 500 cases.

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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