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3M’s earplugs lawsuit update

20,000 cases dismissed; 270,000 cases are pending

3M’s earplugs used by soldiers between 2003 and 2015 have led to over 270,000 cases against the company for hearing loss or tinnitus.Photo credit: JM Simpson

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A legion of lawsuits against earplug manufacturer 3M has become the largest multidistrict litigation in the nation's history.

Between 2003 and 2015, thousands of military personnel who used the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 have either been diagnosed with or suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus.

On May 6, District Judge M. Casey Rodgers of the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola Division dismissed more than 20,000 lawsuits brought by veterans claiming the earplugs caused hearing damage. 

The court found that these veterans had failed to provide their official service record, otherwise known as a DD Form 214.

Of the approximately 270,000 similar cases remaining, they argue that the Minnesota-based company knowingly sold defective earplugs used by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

3M never issued a recall on the product.

"We believed these earplugs were doing their job," said Army veteran David Henderson on a March 2019 edition of CBS This Morning, "and the basic expectation is to rely on your training and equipment, and here was a company deliberately lying for money and hurting service members."

Fellow veteran Joseph Junk agreed; he said he does not know what "quiet" means to him anymore.

Both served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the multidistrict litigation began, the court created an administrative docket, which does not require the standard vetting procedures that come with filing a lawsuit, including filing fees that are in part meant to weed out frivolous cases.

As the judge moves cases from the administrative docket onto the court's standard docket to proceed forward, the veterans' cases must begin meeting certain criteria.

"The court has started a process to dismantle the administrative docket, which we strongly support. These orders are an important step in the right direction," attorneys for 3M said in a statement.

Reports of the dismissal came as a 16th trial began on May 9, the last in a series of cases which are meant to present a representative case before a jury in order to gain useful information for potentially reaching a settlement for all of the cases.

The results of earlier cases have varied. Juries have found in favor of veterans - either completely or in part - on nine occasions. Damages paid to veterans thus far range from about $800,000 to 55 million.

"3M cannot escape the fact that they are facing more than 200,000 claims from U.S. service members after supplying them a defective earplug that caused irreversible hearing damage," according to a statement from the veterans' lead attorneys Bryan Aylstock of Aylstock Witkin Kreis & Overholtz, PLLC, Shelley Hutson of Clark, Love & Hutson GP, and Christopher Seeger of Seeger Weiss LLP.

"With more than 85% of plaintiffs transitioning their cases to the active docket, and juries entering verdicts in favor of two-thirds of service members to go to trial to date, we are very much looking forward to the hundreds of cases the court is preparing the parties to try this year."

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