Jury Awards $22.5 Million in 3M Combat Arms Earplug Trial | Levin Papantonio Rafferty - Personal Injury Law Firm

Jury Awards $22.5 Million in 3M Combat Arms Earplug Trial

On Friday, December 10, 2021, 3M faced another defeat in federal court, as a jury awarded $22.5 million to plaintiff Theodore Finley, according to Reuters. A former U.S. Army soldier, Finley alleged that his hearing loss and tinnitus resulted from the defendant’s defective Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2).

Legal actions against 3M for the defective devices amount to more than 272,000 lawsuits from veterans and military service members who claim to have suffered hearing damage from the manufacturer’s earplugs. Finley’s case marks the eighth such case to reach a verdict.

Of the five cases in which plaintiffs emerged as winners, this most recent case has yielded the largest verdict, exceeding a U.S. Army sergeant’s jury verdict of $13 million last month. The federal jury awarded Finley $7.5 million in compensatory damages, plus $15 million in punitive damages.

Finley served with the U.S. Army from 2006 to 2014.

The Story of 3M’s Military Earplugs

The Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 originated as a design from Aearo Technologies. 3M purchased the company and took over its exclusive military contract. From 2006 to 2015, 3M supplied the Defense Logistics Agency with around 15,000 earplug packages—each containing 50 pair of earplugs—per year, according to Military Times. The devices were standard issue equipment for certain branches of the military during this timeframe.

The earplugs’ unique dual-ended design was intended to benefit soldiers with two modes of hearing protection. By inserting the yellow end, users would be able to hear commands and approaching enemies, and by inserting the olive-colored end, users’ ears would be protected from explosions and other damaging noises.

However, Aearo Technologies designed the earplugs with stems that were too short for the devices to fit snugly in users’ ears. The earplugs would loosen, exposing soldiers—unbeknownst to them—to extreme noise levels, causing hearing damage. Although the devices were reportedly designed with flanges that could be rolled back to prevent the earplugs from loosening, such instructions allegedly did not accompany the CAEv2 devices.

The government sued 3M for selling the defective devices with no warning of their potential to harm soldiers’ hearings. The company settled the matter for $9.1 million.

3M discontinued the CAEv2 in 2015, but the earplugs were not recalled and were therefore still being sold and used by soldiers, according to Military Times.

Military Service Personnel and Veterans File Lawsuits

With hundreds of thousands of lawsuits lining up, all sharing the same general complaints against 3M for the CAEv2 causing tinnitus and hearing damage, the cases were centralized in 2019 in a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Florida (MDL No. 2885). U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers is overseeing the MDL.

The purpose of the MDL is to consolidate all pretrial proceedings in this case, thereby eliminating duplicate discovery and preventing inconsistent pretrial rulings.

All cases in the MDL share common questions of fact around the design, testing, sale, and marketing of the CAEv2. All cases center on the allegation that 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 were defective in design and caused plaintiffs to suffer hearing loss and/or tinnitus.