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A panel of federal judges will hear oral arguments today about whether to centralize and consolidate all 3M Combat Arms Earplug lawsuits before one judge for coordinated pretrial proceedings, as part of a federal MDL, or multidistrict litigation.
Over the past few months, hundreds of product liability lawsuits have been filed against 3M Company in U.S. District Courts nationwide, each raising similar allegations that defective earplugs that were standard issue by the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015 were defective, and failed to provide adequate hearing protection.
Plaintiffs raise common questions of fact and law in the complaints, claiming that they were left with hearing loss following military service, and some estimates suggest that thousands of additional cases are likely to be filed in the future.
Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2) were originally introduced by Aearo Technologites before it was acquired by 3M Company. The reversible earplugs are 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.
According to allegations raised in the lawsuits, the manufacturers knew for years that the earplugs were defective, and too short to properly fit in the ear. As a result, military service members were allegedly left without adequate hearing protection, after the earplugs failed to seal the ear canal.
Today, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) will hear oral arguments from both sides about whether cases filed nationwide should all be transferred to one judge for coordinated discovery and a series of early bellwether trials, which are typically scheduled to help the parties gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that is likely to be repeated throughout the cases.
In complex product liability litigation, where a large number of claims are filed throughout the federal court system by individuals who suffered similar injuries as a result of the same product, it is common for the federal court system to centralize the litigation for pretrial proceedings. However, if settlements are not reached during discovery or following a series of early “bellwether” trials, each claim may later be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed to go before a jury.
The hearing comes after a motion was filed to transfer the 3M Combat Arms litigation on January 25. While there were only about 8 cases pending at that time, according to a response filed by 3M only three weeks later, the manufacturer noted that it was already aware of 222 claims, and the number of lawsuits filed nationwide has continued to increase at a rapid rate since then