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The U.S. District Judge presiding over all federal 3M earplug hearing loss lawsuits has identified a group of 20 cases and five alternates, which will be part of an initial pool that will be prepared for early bellwether trials set to begin next year.
There are currently more than 100,000 claims being pursued by veterans with hearing loss following military service, each raising similar allegations that their injuries were caused by defective 3M earplugs that were standard issue by the government between 2003 and 2015.
Given common questions of fact and law raised in lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system, a multidistrict litigation (MDL) was established last year, which centralized the claims before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
As part of the management of the growing litigation, Judge Rodgers established an early bellwether trial program, where a small group of representative cases were selected for additional discovery and preparation to be before juries. The claims are expected to involve evidence and testimony that will be similar to what will be seen in thousands of other trials if the parties fail to settle or resolve the litigation.
In a pretrial order (PDF) issued on February 27, Judge Rodgers outlined the 25 cases have been selected for the initial bellwether pool, which were selected from both filed and pending claims identified through a census program organized by the Court.
In a previous order, Judge Rodgers indicated that the parties must respond to written discovery by May 15, and core discovery will be complete by July 31. At that time, the Court will then create four trial groups, assigning five cases to each group, which will be eligible to go before juries. The other five cases will serve as alternates.
3M Military Earplug Problems
Each of the plaintiffs raise similar allegations, indicating that design defects with the 3M Combat Arms earplugs left military service members without adequate hearing protection, resulting in permanent hearing loss and tinnitus for thousands of veterans.
The 3M military earplugs feature a dual-ended, or reversible, design that was intended to completely block all sounds when inserted one way, but provide filtered noise reduction when reversed, blocking loud battlefield noises, while allowing the wearer to hear spoken commands.
Plaintiffs indicate 3M has known for years that the earplugs were defective, and too small to properly seal the ear canal. Rather than recalling the earplugs or providing updated warnings and instructions, the manufacturer continued to sell the defective earplugs to the U.S. military for years, who issued the product to nearly every service member.
In July 2018, 3M reached a $9.1 million settlement over the Combat Arms earplug problems with the Department of Justice, resolving claims that it defrauded the government by knowingly selling the defective earplugs.
Following the bellwether trials, if 3M earplug settlements are not reached following the MDL proceedings, each individual claim would eventually be remanded back to U.S. District Courts nationwide for individual trials in the future.