3M Loses First of Many Earplug Lawsuits

A Florida case was the first of thousands brought by veterans over defective ear protection.

A jury has awarded three veterans a total of $7.1 million after a case against 3M went to trial. At issue: earplugs.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the resolution last week, when a Florida jury agreed with the plaintiffs who said that 3M failed to warn users of product defects relating to its earplugs.

The earplugs in question are called Combat Arms, a product designed for soldiers that 3M acquired from another manufacturer in 2007. Unfortunately, they came with some baggage: a redesign in 2000 was the source of an alleged design flaw reportedly making it too short to fit properly.

The plugs were used by the armed forces between 2003 and 2015, and because of the alleged design flaw, hundreds of thousands of veterans have claimed that they’ve experienced hearing loss or ringing in the ears, and that Combat Arms are to blame.

3M reached a settlement with the U.S. government in 2018, agreeing to pay more than $9 million in penalties but admitting no wrongdoing. At the time, the Justice Department said 3M violated the False Claims Act by knowingly selling defective earplugs.

Unfortunately for 3M, this recent judgement is the first of thousands of lawsuits that have been filed making similar claims. Some experts believe this suit, plus one that will appear before a jury in mid-May, will be bellwether cases in determining whether 3M will continue to be held accountable.

Minneapolis-based 3M says the Florida verdict left multiple grounds for appeal and, according to sources, 3M says it remains “confident” in its case and that it is ready to defend itself “against plaintiffs’ allegations at the upcoming trials.”

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