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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all 3M Combat Arms earplug lawsuits has scheduled two additional bellwether trials to begin in the coming months, starting weeks after the first jury trial, which begins later this month.
3M Company faces more than 200,000 product liability lawsuits brought by veterans throughout the federal court system, each raising similar allegations that defective “Combat Arms” earplugs resulted in hearing loss, tinnitus and other problems.
The 3M earplugs were standard military issue to all service members between 2003 and 2015, featuring a dual-ended or reversible design, which was supposed to block all sound when inserted one way, but provide selective filtering when reversed. This was intended to reduce loud impulse sounds, while allowing users to hear spoken commands. However, according to allegations raised in the litigation, 3M withheld critical safety information and instructions on proper use, causing the earplugs to commonly fall out and not properly seal the ear canal.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in lawsuits, a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) has been established before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, where the cases have been centralized for discovery and a series of “bellwether” trials intended to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the claims.
The first trial is scheduled to begin on March 29, involving hearing loss claims presented by three different veterans. The case will be closely watched, as it is expected to help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that would be repeated throughout other claims.
Following the expected conclusion of the first 3M earplug trial on April 27, two additional cases have been selected by the parties will go before juries starting on May 17, 2021 and June 7, 2021.
In a court order (PDF) issued on February 24, Judge Rodgers indicated a lawsuit filed by Dustin McCombs is expected to last two weeks, concluding on May 28. Only one week later, a third bellwether trial involving claims presented by Lloyd Baker will begin, which will conclude by June 18, 2021.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, the Court indicates these trials will be held in-person in the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Florida. Just Rodgers noted the deputy clerk will disinfect the witness stand after each testimony, and directs counsel to take responsibility for disinfecting the lectern after each use. The Court will provide parties with alcohol wipes, and Judge Rodgers states other safety precautions will be discussed with parties prior to the start of the trial.
Following this initial set of bellwether trials, it is expected Judge Rodgers will continue to prepare groups of cases to go before a jury. If the parties fail to negotiate 3M earplug settlements or make progress toward resolving large groups of cases, the Court may start remanding claims back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for individual trials in the coming years.