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Following split outcomes in the first two federal “bellwether” trials involving hearing problems from 3M military earplugs, a third test case is currently underway in Florida, and the U.S. District Judge presiding over the litigation has scheduled two additional trials that will begin in September and October 2021.
There are currently more than 230,000 3M earplug lawsuits pending in the federal court system, each involving similar allegations that hearing loss and tinnitus was caused by design defects with the Combat Arms earplug version 2 (CAEv2), which was standard issue to all military service members between 2003 and 2015.
Plaintiffs claim 3M Company knew about design problems with the earplugs, which caused them to fall out and not properly seal the ear canal, yet the manufacturer continued to sell the ear protectors to the U.S. government and provide inadequate instructions for service members being deployed.
To help the parties gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence that will be repeated throughout thousands of different claims, a series of early “bellwether” trials are currently being held in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, where the litigation is centralized before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers.
In late April, the first trial ended with a massive $7.1 million verdict for three veterans, who presented their claims during a consolidated trial which began a few weeks earlier. The award included both compensatory and punitive damages, which were designed to punish 3M Company for recklessly disregarding the health of military service members when they designed and sold the earplugs.
Late last month, a separate jury returned in a defense verdict in favor of 3M in the second of three early bellwether trials that were planned.
On Monday, the third bellwether trial began, involving a claim brought by Lloyd Baker, who indicates he was left with both hearing loss and tinnitus by the allegedly defective earplugs. The trial is expected to last 10 business days, with each day expected to last 7.5 hours for the jury.
While the outcomes for these early test cases will not be binding for other plaintiffs who are presenting claims, they are being closely watched to gauge how juries may respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout different cases and the trials are expected to have a big impact on the amount of any hearing loss settlements 3M may pay to avoid years of litigation in U.S. District Courts nationwide.
To provide more sample trials and a larger pool of data to evaluate, Judge Rodgers issued a series of orders this week scheduling a fourth and fifth case to go before juries in the Northern District of Florida this fall.
A claim filed by Joseph Taylor has been scheduled to begin on September 20, 2021, and concluded by October 1, 2021. That will be followed a few weeks later by a fifth case brought by Michelle Blum, which will begin on October 18, 2021 and conclude by October 29, 2021.
Following any additional trials scheduled before Judge Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, the Court may begin remanding large numbers of cases to U.S. District Courts nationwide next year for additional trial dates if 3M earplug settlements or another resolution for the litigation is not reached.