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Earplug lawsuits hit a snag

3M wins case over military-issued earplugs

Spc. Coca Temoananui, assigned to the 311th Signal Command, puts in ear protection prior to a helicopter flight, in 2012. Photo credit: Debrah Sanders, U.S. Army

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A federal jury in Florida sided with earplug manufacturer 3M that the company's product did not cause hearing loss for a veteran who used them while serving in the military.

The trial was the second of three scheduled this year that could impact the outcome of a lawsuit involving nearly 236,000 veterans who were issued the earplugs while in the service.

3M, a Minnesota-based company, lost the first trial April in which a jury awarded $7.1 million to three Army veterans who said they suffered from hearing loss and tinnitus because of the earplugs. The second trial involved one veteran, Dustin McCombs, with a similar lawsuit.

The jury on May 28 determined 3M was not liable, negligent or fraudulent when selling earplugs to the military, according to court documents.

"We are pleased with today's verdict and will continue to vigorously defend ourselves in upcoming trials. The Combat Arms Earplug Version 2 product is and has always been safe and effective to use," 3M representatives said in a statement.

Nearly 236,000 veterans are part of the multidistrict lawsuit against 3M, which claims the company's dual-sided earplug used by the military for more than a decade, including during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, could imperceptibly slip in the wearer's ear. Work began on the earplugs in the 1990s and 3M sold them to the military until 2015.

The three trials scheduled for this year are bellwether trials, which are used to present a representative of the cases before a jury to gain useful information for potentially reaching a settlement for all cases. It can help both parties determine the costs of subsequent lawsuits.

McCombs' lawyers did not immediately respond Tuesday for comment on the verdict.

The last of these trials is set to begin June 7 in Pensacola, Fla.

No recall was ever issued on the product and a fourth version of the earplug remains in use by the military, according to 3M.

In July 2018, the Justice Department announced 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold the earplugs to the military without disclosing defects that hampered effectiveness. That lawsuit was filed through the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act, according to the Justice Department.

In settling the claim, 3M did not admit to wrongdoing, according to the company.

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