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As a growing number of product liability lawsuits continue to be filed over permanent hearing problems caused by dual-ended 3M Combat Arms earplugs used during military service, a Master Complaint has been adopted, which will allow future cases to be brought through a streamlined process.
There are currently about 2,200 lawsuits pending in the federal court system against 3M Company that allege veterans have been left with hearing loss or tinnitus due to defective earplugs distributed by the U.S. armed forces to all service members between about 2003 and 2015. However, as military hearing loss lawyers continue to review and file claims in the coming months and years, it is widely expected that tens of thousands of claims will be filed nationwide.
Given common questions of fact and law raised by plaintiffs throughout the federal court system, a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) was established, which centralizes all cases before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida for coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings.
To help streamline the process for filing new cases and coordinate allegations raised in the lawsuits, a Master Long Form Complaint (PDF) was filed last week, which includes various legal claims and requests for relief brought in the claims. This allows relevant allegations to be adopted by individual plaintiffs through a separate Short Form Complaint (PDF) that will be filed in each case.
In complex product liability lawsuits, where large numbers of individuals are pursuing similar claims and allegations, it is common for the Court to approve a Master and Short Form complaint to simplify the process of filing new claims, and help the parties coordinate, categorize and evaluate the claims.
3M Earplug Problems
Each of the plaintiffs raise similar allegations, indicating that design defects with the 3M earplugs left military service members without adequate hearing protection, resulting in permanent hearing loss and tinnitus for thousands of veterans.
3M Combat Arms earplugs featured 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 that 3M Company 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.
As part of the coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings in the MDL, Judge Rodgers is expected to schedule a series of early trial dates involving representative claims, which will present facts similar to those contained in many other claims. However, 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.