13th Military Earplug Trial Returns $50 Million Plaintiff Verdict

A federal jury in Florida awarded a U.S. Army veteran $50 million for hearing damages he allegedly sustained because of faulty earplugs made by 3M. The decision marks the eighth trial loss for 3M and the second-largest judgment.

The 10-day trial of Luke Vilsmeyer began March 16 and concluded that the veteran, who used 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) from 2006 to 2017, developed hearing loss and severe tinnitus because of 3M’s negligence. Vilsmeyer served in the Army from 1999 to 2020.

CAEv2 litigation is the nation’s largest mass tort, consolidating the cases of more than 280,000 individuals, mostly former U.S. service members.

In the eight trials that 3M has been found liable for negligently causing the injuries of the plaintiffs, juries found that it was more likely than not that 3M knowingly sold a defective product to the U.S. military, and have awarded 11 plaintiffs more than $200 million in damages, collectively.

“It is clear 3M’s defenses — whether in the courts, to investors, or the public — are unconvincing and without merit,” lead attorneys for Vilsmeyer said in a joint statement, per Law360.

The largest 3M verdict was $110 million, which was awarded in January to two U.S. Army veterans. On March 26, the day before the Vilsmeyer verdict was reached, a jury awarded Afghanistan War veteran, Steven Wilkerson, $8 million for his hearing damage claims, also found by a jury to be more likely caused by defective CAEv2 than not.

3M announced it would appeal the first CAEv2 trial verdict, which awarded three veterans $7.1 million, collectively. The company also said it would appeal the $110 million award and indicated it would appeal the Vilsmeyer verdict.

U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, who is overseeing the CAEv2 MDL, has ordered more than 1,000 cases to prepare for trial before the end of 2022.

3M has yet to hint whether it is considering a settlement to resolve the sprawling MDL, despite its losing record in the bellwether trials. Bloomberg estimates that 3M’s valuation has been reduced by $33 billion as a result of earplug and PFAS chemical litigation.

CAEv2 earplugs were sold to the U.S. military from 2003 until 2015. 3M acquired the original manufacturer of the dual-ended earplugs — Aearo Technologies — in 2008. Aearo is named as a co-defendant in the earplug trials. Both companies are blamed for creating the earplugs with an imperceptible loose-fitting that has allegedly caused hearing damage, loss, and tinnitus. 3M has maintained that the U.S. government should share at least a portion of the blame for the design and fulfillment of the devices.

Another 3M CAEv2 trial that began March 28 is expected to last 10 business days.

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