3M Military Earplug Lawsuits Set For Additional Trial Dates Beginning September 20 and October 18, 2021

Additional 3M Combat Arms earplug lawsuits are set for trials to begin over the next two months, which will be closely watched to gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain testimony and evidence that may be repeated throughout more than 230,000 similar lawsuits brought by veterans left with permanent hearing damage.

Each of the claims raise similar allegations that 3M Company sold dangerous and defective earplugs to the U.S. military, which were standard issue for all service members between 2003 and 2015.

The reversible earplugs were 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, the lawsuits allege the earplugs commonly fell out and did not properly seal the ear canal, causing veterans to suffer permanent hearing loss, tinnitus and other ear damage.

Given common questions of fact and law, the cases are currently all centralized before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, as part of an MDL, or multi-district litigation.

As part of the coordinated management of the litigation, Judge Rodgers has selected a small group of “bellwether” cases for early trial dates, which are intended to help the parties evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments, and facilitate potential settlement negotiations to resolve large numbers of claims.

Earlier this year, a series of three trials were held, with mixed results. The first trial ended in a massive $7.1 million verdict for three veterans, whose claims went before the same jury in a consolidated trial the ended in April 2021. The next month, 3M was able to obtain a defense verdict in the second trial, and a third bellwether case ended in a $1.7 million verdict in June.

According to a court order (PDF) issued on August 4, Judge Rodgers announced the next bellwether trial will begin starting on September 20 and will conclude by October 1, with another case expected to begin in October 2021.

The next trial will involve a complaint (PDF) filed in January 2020 by Brandon Adkins, who suffered hearing loss and bilateral tinnitus (ringing in the ears) allegedly caused by his Combat Arms earplug use.

Adkins’ lawsuit replaces a previously scheduled trial that was expected to begin next month, but was replaced after the case was dismissed.

Ten calendar days have been set aside for the Adkins trial, with each day anticipated to have an average time of 9.6 hours. Plaintiffs will have a total of 35 hours to present their case, and Defendants will have 29 hours.

“This decision is based on the Court’s consideration of the parties’ presentations in all of the Group A bellwether trials and Plaintiff’s need to educate the jury early in the trial, as indicated,” Judge Rodgers wrote in a pretrial order (PDF) she also issued on August 4.

Another round of trials are also expected to begin next year, including a consolidated trial involving three plaintiffs who will go before the same jury in January 2022.

Following these bellwether trials held in the MDL, if the parties fail to reach earplug hearing loss settlements or otherwise resolve large numbers of cases, it is expected that Judge Rodgers will begin remanding waves of cases to U.S. District Courts nationwide for trial.

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