Army Vet Awarded $22.5 Million in Latest 3M Combat Earplugs Trial

The eighth bellwether trial in the nation’s largest mass tort case in history has concluded with the largest verdict to date. A former U.S. Army service member was awarded $22.5 million on Dec. 10, when a federal jury in Florida found that 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2) were defective and therefore responsible for the Army vet’s hearing damage.

Theodore Finley, who served in the U.S. Army from 2006 to 2014, is one of more than 250,000 individuals to sue 3M over claims of hearing loss and/or tinnitus, a persistent phantom ringing in the ear. The jury in Tallahassee awarded him $7.5 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages, according to Law360.com.

The majority of individuals who have sued 3M over its allegedly defective earplugs are former U.S. military service members.

Finley’s case is the second consecutive plaintiff verdict. In the seventh trial, U.S. Army veteran Guillermo Camarillorazo was awarded $13 million, which currently stands as the second-largest verdict after Finley’s.

3M has lost the first six of nine bellwether claims that have gone to trial. The first trial was a consolidation of three different plaintiffs’ claims. Collectively, the three plaintiffs were awarded approximately $7 million. After winning the second bellwether trial, which involved just one plaintiff, 3M lost the next two trials, before winning the fifth and sixth trials.

Bellwether trials numbers nine and ten are scheduled for early 2022.

The number of claims against 3M skyrocketed after 2018, when a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a competing earplug manufacturer ended with 3M paying $9.1 million to resolve allegations that the company violated the False Claims Act by selling defective earplugs to the U.S. military.

Aearo Technologies originally manufactured CAEv2 until the company was acquired by 3M in 2008. Plaintiffs have alleged that as early as 2000, Aearo knew that the earplugs had a design flaw that could result in the earplugs fitting too loosely and thus could cause hearing damage. 3M continued to sell CAEv2 to the U.S. military until 2015.

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