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Product liability lawyers representing veterans with hearing loss from defective 3M earplugs have been asked to apply for various leadership positions in the recently established federal multidistrict litigation (MDL), so that a small group of attorneys can take certain steps during the consolidated pretrial proceedings on behalf of all plaintiffs.
There are currently more than 600 3M earplug lawsuits pending in the federal court system, and it is ultimately expected that the litigation will include tens of thousands of claims, as attorneys continue to investigate and file complaints on behalf of veterans left with tinnitus or hearing damage following military service between 2003 and 2015, where Combat Arms Earplugs were standard issue in combat and training.
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 raise common questions of fact and law in the complaints, claiming that 3M Company failed to disclose known problems with the earplugs, which 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.
Last month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) centralized all of the lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, to avoid conflicting rulings from different judges, avoid duplicative discovery into common issues and service the convenience of attorneys, witnesses and parties involved in the lawsuits.
On April 19, Judge Rodgers filed a pretrial order (PDF) laying out the plaintiff leadership structure, calling for attorneys to apply for the positions of lead counsel, liaison counsel, membership on an executive committee, steering committee, and a number of subcommittees.
The 3M earplug attorneys appointed to these various leadership roles will take certain actions during the consolidated pretrial proceedings that benefit all plaintiffs, including arguing motions before the court, taking depositions, reviewing discovery documents and other actions. However, each veteran will still maintain their own attorney to represent their specific interests and establish that their hearing loss was caused by the 3M earplugs.
Any attorney who has filed a case in the MDL is eligible for the positions, and Judge Rodgers indicates that applications have to be submitted for review by May 3. Some attorneys will be invited to make oral presentations on their qualifications for the positions on May 20 and May 21.