A $2.2 million verdict against 3M is the latest outcome in an ongoing legal battle over allegedly defective earplugs the company long made for the U.S. military.
3M has now lost nine and won six bellwether trials aimed at setting the groundwork for a settlement in one of the largest U.S. mass tort cases ever. With only one more bellwether trial forthcoming, a settlement still appears elusive.
A jury in the case before the U.S. District Court for northern Florida on Friday ruled in favor of Jonathon Vaughn, who served in the U.S. Army from 2006 to 2010. Vaughn, of Southside, Ala., claimed that 3M's Combat Arms CAEv2 earplugs caused his hearing loss and tinnitus.
Damages awarded to plaintiffs — all with similar claims — amount to about $220 million.
"It is clear 3M's defenses — whether in the courts, to investors or the public — are unconvincing and without merit," plaintiffs' attorneys said in a statement.
Maplewood-based 3M said in a statement that it was "disappointed" with the Vaughn verdict, and was "prevented from presenting relevant evidence to the jury." The company maintains the earplugs were safe, as evidenced by the trials it has won, and is appealing its losses.
3M also said under Colorado law, which applies to the Vaughn verdict, the $2.2 million judgment will be reduced to $668,010 plus pre-judgment interest.
Plaintiffs' attorneys disagreed, saying that because 3M was found liable for consumer fraud, it will need to cover Vaughn's attorneys' fees, which with interest will likely result in a payment exceeding $2 million.
Combat Arms CAEv2 were standard issue for the U.S. military for well over a decade when 3M discontinued them in 2015.
Over 280,000 military earplug claims are pending against the company. About 42,000 of them are being readied for trial, and the others sit on an administrative docket. The suits have been roped together in a multidistrict litigation, or MDL, case in U.S. District Court of northern Florida.
MDLs are used in the federal court system for complex product liability matters with many separate claims. They commonly feature bellwether trials. The earplug trials have been ongoing since April 2021. The last one is scheduled for this month.
If there's still no settlement, Casey Rodgers, a U.S. district judge in Florida, has ruled that active cases will be remanded back to the various federal courts from which they came. They would be tried in waves of 500 cases.