3M Wins Ninth & Tenth Earplug Bellwether Trials

Verdicts in favor of the defendant have been returned in the last two 3M Combat Arms Earplug version 2 (CAEv2) bellwether trials.

On Dec. 15, a jury in Florida rejected the hearing loss claims of U.S. Army veteran Carlos A. Montero. Five days later, a federal jury in Pensacola cleared 3M of liability for the loss of hearing and tinnitus that U.S. Army veteran Carter Stelling claimed was allegedly caused by the faulty hearing protection device that was supplied to the U.S. military until 2015.

3M’s two successive legal victories in the nation’s largest mass tort in U.S. history currently evens the score in the early phase of the litigation. 3M has been found liable for the hearing loss of eight plaintiffs in five trials and 3M has successfully defended five other lawsuits.

In the first bellwether trial, three plaintiffs’ cases were consolidated into a single trial. The three veterans — Luke Estes, Lewis Keefer and Stephen Hacker — were each awarded over $2 million. Cumulatively, the veterans were awarded $7.1 million.

3M was cleared of liability in the second trial, which involved the case of Dustin McCombs.

Plaintiffs were then successful in the third and fourth trials. Veterans Lloyd Baker and Brandon Atkins were awarded $1.1 million and $8.2 million, respectively.

After juries returned defense verdicts in the fifth and sixth trials involving the cases of veterans Michelle Blum and Joseph Palanki, plaintiffs were awarded the two largest damage awards. In the seventh trial, Guillermo Camarillorazo won over $13 million. Veteran Joseph Finley then won the largest award in the eighth bellwether trial — $22.5 million.

According to Law360.com, thus far, six more trial dates are set for 2022. Over 270,000 individuals, mostly former U.S. military service members, have filed suit against 3M. In bellwether trials that have returned plaintiff verdicts, juries found that 3M negligence was responsible for the veterans’ hearing loss.

Aearo Technologies is also a named defendant in the sprawling mass tort litigation. The company is the original maker of the CAEv2 products. 3M acquired the company in 2008. Plaintiff attorneys allege that as early as 2000, Aearo was aware of a flaw in the earplugs that resulted in the hearing-protection devices fitting improperly.

The dual-ended earplugs were designed to protect soldiers from loud noises yet allow service members to hear commands in the battlefield and in training.

A 2018 whistleblower lawsuit over 3M’s military earplugs led to a $9 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Prior to the settlement, many veterans were not aware that their hearing loss was allegedly caused by the defective earplugs.

3M has attempted to shoulder some of the blame on the U.S. military, but the judge presiding over the multidistrict litigation has denied 3M’s contractor defense.

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