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With a growing number of military veterans filing lawsuits over hearing damage allegedly caused by problems with 3M Combat Arms earplugs, the U.S. District Judge recently appointed to preside over the litigation has scheduled a “Science & Technology Day” in June, which is designed to educate the court about issues that will come up in the claims.
There are currently about 600 product liability lawsuits filed on behalf of individuals who received 3M earplugs during military service between 2003 and 2015. Each of involves claim that the veterans have been left with hearing loss, tinnitus and other damage that was allegedly caused by earplug design problems that the manufacturer failed to disclose to the U.S. government.
Given similar questions of fact and law raised in complaints pending throughout the federal court system, U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) decided last month to consolidate and centralize the claims for pretrial proceedings before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, to prevent duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting schedules and to serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.
In an initial case management order (PDF) issued on April 23, Judge Rodgers outlined the structure for a “Science & Technology Day” that is scheduled for June 18, 2019.
“The purpose of this proceeding is to educate the Court on scientific and technological aspects of this litigation,” wrote Judge Rodgers. “Importantly, this will be an informal, non-adversarial proceeding, in which the parties will present relevant information to the Court in a neutral manner and without cross-examination or advocacy. The presentations will be ‘off the record’ and may not be used or admitted for any other purpose in the litigation.”
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.
In complex litigation, where large numbers of claims are being presented involving similar injuries associated with the same product, it is common for the Court to schedule such scientific presentations prior to ruling on discovery disputes, admissibility of evidence and other issues.
As veterans continue to learn that hearing damage may be caused by the military earplugs, it is widely expected that tens of thousands of lawsuits will be filed in the coming months and years.