Worried soldier in battlefield

30 Jul 2023

3M Earplug Lawsuit Update

History of the Lawsuit

From 2003 to 2015 Aero Technologies Inc. (A subsidiary of 3M) manufactured and supplied US Military Personnel with Combat Arms earplugs which were specifically engineered to protect military personnel from hearing damage when exposed to the various loud sounds associated with military training and actual combat noises. The CAEv2 were standard issue for servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during the twelve-year time frame. In 2015 production on the earplugs in question stopped, and there were no recalls issued.

A whistleblower lawsuit was filed against 3M by a competitor. The lawsuit alleged that 3M had been selling defective earplugs, with the knowledge that the earplugs were substandard and didn’t provide proper protection. The lawsuit claimed that the earplugs caused significant tinnitus and hearing loss in thousands of military members due to the length of the earplugs. The earplugs were designed with two ends. One end was designed to still allow soft sounds to be unmuffled when worn, while the other end was supposed to muffle all sound and thus protect the ear. The problem was that for some service members the length was too short to form a proper seal and thus lacked proper protection.

The plaintiffs in the case have had a longer service record and have had significant exposure to loud noises in combat operations while wearing the CAEv2 earplugs. Several soldiers have been successful in their arguments that allege that 3M knew or should have known about the defects and thus should have warned the service members about the potential problems.

Lawsuit Updates

The latest updates include one from August of 2022 in which the court permitted the case against 3M to continue in spite of the fact that the company’s subsidiary company Aearo, the manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy as a strategy on 3M’s part to try to protect and insulate itself from allegations. When the bankruptcy was denied, the judge that presided over the case at that time nudged 3M to participate in settlement talks. The talks began back in September of 2022. However, 3M filed a bankruptcy appeal.

Plaintiffs in the case then filed a motion in which they asked the judge to rule that 3M, being the parent company to Aearo, alone bears the responsibility for the injuries that resulted from the defective earplugs and thus Aero’s bankruptcy should not impact the case. The motion was granted, but 3M appealed it. One of the cases was scheduled to be litigated for a plaintiff in October 2022, but was then pushed back to February of 2023.

In December of 2022, a judge heard the multidistrict litigation (MDL) and established sanctions against 3M for their abuse of the process of litigation. It was cited that 3M litigated the case over the course of four prior years and never once claimed that Aearo, its subsidiary, bore any blame until Aearo had filed for bankruptcy. The judge then denied the ability of 3M to blame Aearo and have the claims deliberated in bankruptcy court.

3M disclosed that thus far, it had spent $466 million on attorney fees In January of 2023. Later in May of 2023, a judge ordered Michael Roman, the 3M CEO, to attend mediation in Pensacola, establishing that any mediated resolution would have to have 3M leadership involved. Casey Rogers, the judge currently presiding over the case, wanted to ensure that 3M leadership would listen and engage with mediators directly to move towards resolution. This mediation in Pensacola, FL began on May 25th, 2023.