Soldiers Have Won Three of Four 3M Combat Arms Earplug Cases

Four trials in the massive multi-district litigation (MDL) against 3M in connection with earplugs supplied to the military have wrapped, and a fifth is scheduled to begin October 18. Though 3M continues to deny any wrongdoing and to defend each case, three of four juries have sided with service members and awarded significant damages. 

These early cases are selected in part to allow plaintiffs and defendants to get a better idea of how juries will see the claims and help them determine the potential value of the remaining claims. Typically, each side chooses certain cases to be tried in the early rounds. Naturally, plaintiffs tend toward choosing strong cases likely to result in significant awards. Defendants look for weaker cases, knowing that a defense win or a low-dollar verdict may help push down the perceived value of the remaining cases. 

Plaintiffs chose two of the four cases discussed here, and defendants chose the other two.

Here’s how those cases played out: 

  1. The first trial, in April of this year, involved three plaintiffs. That trial ended in a $7.1 million verdict, including $2.1 million in punitive damages. 
  2. The second trial was 3M’s only win so far. The plaintiff had claimed he suffered from tinnitus as a result of his earplugs providing insufficient protection against the sound of machine gun fire in Afghanistan.
  3. The jury in the third trial found 3M 62% liable for damages sustained by the veteran. The jury also found the service member had sustained $1.7 million in damages, resulting in an award of just over $1 million (62% of $1.7 million).
  4. The jury in the fourth trial delivered the largest verdict to date, awarding $8.2 million. This case is of particular interest because 3M chose this case–presumably for its perceived weaknesses–yet it turned out to be the company’s most significant loss yet. 

3M Court Leaves Statute of Limitations Question to the Jury

The fifth 3M earplug case is scheduled for trial on October 18, but 3M has already sustained one significant loss in that case. 3M moved for summary judgment on Michelle Blum’s claims, asserting in part that her claims were barred by the New York statute of limitations. Under New York law, Blum’s various claims were required to have been filed within either three or four years. 

3M argued that at the latest, Blum’s claims accrued in 2009. And, her case wasn’t filed until 2019. Ordinarily, that would be too late. But, New York law also says a defendant may be prevented from asserting the statute of limitations if the delay resulted from defendant’s fraudulent concealment of an action the plaintiff didn’t know about. The court ruled that whether or not 3M was precluded from using the statute of limitations as a defense depended on questions of fact for the jury, and denied the motion for summary judgment based on the age of the claim at the time of filing. 

The burden will be on Blum to establish at trial that 3M acted “with intent to defraud, knowledge of their falsity, or disregard for their truth” and that she was unaware of the true facts. This issue could impact a large number of other claims, since the earplugs at the core of this litigation were standard issue in the U.S. military as early as 2003. State statutes of limitations for injury-related claims are often just two, three, or four years. The plaintiff’s victory at the summary judgment stage is a step in the right direction, and the remaining plaintiffs’ positions will strengthen further if the jury finds in Blum’s favor on this issue.

Are You a Veteran with Tinnitus or Hearing Loss?

If you served in the military between 2003 and 2015, relied on the military-issued earplugs manufactured by 3M (or its predecessor, Aearo), and have suffered hearing loss or tinnitus, you may be entitled to compensation. 

At Action Matters, we want to make it as easy as possible for you to get the information and assistance you need. You can get started right now by filling out our contact form.

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