Multi-District Litigation Moves Forward on Defective 3M Earplugs

What Are These Cases About?

Personal injury cases for products liability can differ substantially in size and scope, based upon how widespread the use of the product may be and the resulting number of people who are injured by the product’s defects. One situation representing the largest current products liability problem in terms of the number of individual claims involves defective earplugs from the 3M company and its predecessor, Aearo LLC.

In total, veterans and current service members have submitted nearly a quarter-million claims based upon hearing problems, including ringing in the ears, tinnitus, and even partial hearing loss after these “combat earplugs” failed to protect their hearing as designed and advertised.

The “CAEv2” earplugs were originally designed and manufactured by Aearo LLC and sold to servicemembers beginning in 2003. Aearo LLC was acquired in 2008 by the 3M Company (originally the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company), a well-known U.S. conglomerate that produces consumer goods, health care, and safety products of many kinds. 3M continued selling the earplugs to servicemembers through 2015. This despite the fact that Aearo and 3M were both apparently aware that the earplugs did not protect hearing as designed and advertised.

What Is Multi-District Litigation?

As noted, products liability litigation can come in many different sizes, from personal injury lawsuits in state court with a single plaintiff to class action lawsuits in federal courts that represent thousands of plaintiffs at once.

When a vast number of separate lawsuits are filed related to a single defective product, it can result in a substantial amount of court time being spent on duplicative activity among the numerous cases, and so federal law was passed in the late 1960s to allow these cases to be consolidated into single multi-district litigation cases or “MDLs.” The most famous MDL was probably one initiated in 1991 to consolidate the then numerous individual personal injury and wrongful death cases related to asbestos exposure.

The current MDL for 3M earplugs consolidates cases from courts in four states — Texas, California, Oklahoma, and Minnesota — along with some six hundred lawsuits spread across nearly three dozen federal district courts.

The Defects and the Injuries

The Aearo earplug was designed to be used in two different ways – inserted one way into the ear canal, it was intended to provide a degree of hearing protection that still allowed the user to hear orders and conversations nearby, while if inserted in the opposite direction into the ear it was designed to block noises completely. Specific noise reduction levels were certified by the manufacturer to the military when the earplugs were offered in contract negotiations.

Separately, Aearo had tested the earplugs and discovered that the advertised noise reduction level was not being met. Additionally, it was discovered that the earplugs could loosen in the ear canal – resulting in even less noise protection – if they were not inserted in a specific manner. The claims and litigation have asserted that both these problems were due to design flaws, that Aearo and 3M were aware of these flaws and the test results that revealed them, and that no usage instructions were provided to specify the manner for insertion that would ensure the earplugs remained properly in place.

Service members used these defective earplugs both in training and in actual combat deployments, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflicts. Due to the inadequate protection from the defective earplugs, some 220,000 have submitted claims for injuries ranging from tinnitus to noise-induced hearing loss.

Litigation Progress

The federal district judge presiding over the defective 3M earplug cases has ordered the first test trials to go forward on three cases for plaintiff service members from the pool of MDL cases. The trial on these cases is scheduled to begin in April 2021. Depending on the progress of these cases – being heard before a single jury – two other cases may proceed shortly thereafter.

Depending upon the results of these test cases, there may be follow-up efforts at large-scale settlements, or additional cases may go to trial.

Watch YouTube Video: Veterans Suing 3M, Claiming Defective Combat Earplugs. In the following video, CBS This Morning reports on the hundreds of veterans who claim 3M Company knowingly sold them defective earplugs.

Sacramento Product Defects Attorney

My name is Ed Smith, and I am a product defects attorney in Sacramento, California. When a defective product like these 3M combat earplugs causes serious injuries such as permanent hearing loss, it’s critical that injury victims like our veterans and service members seek advice from experienced legal professionals. If you would like free and friendly advice related to a potential product defects claim, give us a call at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 to talk with one of our injury attorneys. You can also reach us through our online form.

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

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