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Plaintiffs win last 3M Earplug Bellwether Trial

$77.5M Verdict on May 20, 2022

 

The plaintiffs’ side in the 3M earplug litigation won the last bellwether trial on May 20, 2022.  A federal jury in Florida awarded $77.5 million in damages to a former soldier who claimed his hearing loss was caused by faulty 3M earplugs. This was the 16th bellwether trial in multidistrict litigation against the manufacturing giant from Minnesota.

The verdict form said the jury awarded James Beal $5 million in compensatory damages and $72.5 million in punitive damages. Mr. Beal suffers from bilateral tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. He alleged his hearing problems were caused by the defective 3M-made CAEv2 combat arms earplugs he wore for years.

Mr. Beal testified that he wore the 3M plugs throughout his service in the U.S. Army. He said that he was exposed to noise from several weapons while he was in active service from 2005 and 2009, and when he served as a reservist until 2011. His complaint alleged negligence and fraudulent misrepresentation, among other claims. It also alleged design defects in the CAEv2 earplugs .

Plaintiffs win 10 of 16 Trials

Mr. Beal’s trial was the 16th and final bellwether trial. It was selected from an initial set of cases pulled from the multidistrict litigation overseeing thousands of claims. Plaintiffs won ten (10) of the trials, resulting in nearly $300 million in total damages; though Defendants have appealed virtually all of those verdicts and no claimant has yet received any actual compensation.

The Beal verdict was the largest single award made to a plaintiff in the 3M earplug litigation. It topped the $55 million verdict won by each of two Army veterans in January 2022. The penultimate bellwether trial was also won by plaintiffs; a jury awarded former serviceman Jonathan Vaughn $2.2 million in compensatory damages, though it added no punitive damages.

3M Will Appeal Last Earplug Verdict

The 3M company announced after the Beal verdict that it planned to appeal. The company argued: “[A]s in previous bellwether trials, we were prevented from presenting crucial evidence to the jury, and we will address that issue, among others, in our appeal.”

Among other objections, 3M said it disagreed with the punitive damages awarded in the case. The 3M company said that its “conduct with respect to the CAEv2 product was consistent with the company’s values and longtime commitment to keeping our U.S. military safe.” The  company said it would “continue to vigorously defend our record in these matters.”

3M says Plugs Safe and Effective
The company further said: “With the bellwether trial process now complete, multiple juries have found the CAEv2 product to be safe and effective, and we have demonstrated that even cases plaintiffs select for bellwether trials do not necessarily represent meritorious or compensable claims.”

Formed in 2019, the multi-district litigation court (MDL) has more than 280,000 plaintiffs who allege hearing damage as a result of using CAEv2 earplugs.

3M Settles with U.S. Military

In 2018, the 3M company agreed to pay the U.S. government $9.1 million to settle False Claims Act allegations that it knowingly sold defective earplugs to the military that could loosen and lose their seal. As with most such settlements, however, this one came with a caveat that allowed 3M to avoid admitting any liability for the plugs.

Judge dismisses Claims for Failure to Show Proof of Service

U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers dismissed roughly 20,000 claims from the MDL on May 6, 2022 for failing to submit proof of military service. However, he gave those claimants until June 6 to seek to reopen their cases.

Judge Rogers: Reasonable to Require Proof

“Given the advanced stage of this litigation and the importance of veterans’ military service information to the various claims and defenses in this litigation, it was, and is, entirely reasonable to require veterans to show basic proof of military service.”

The case is Beal v. 3M Co. et al., case number 7:20-cv-00006. The MDL is In re: 3M Combat Arms Earplug Products Liability Litigation, case number 3:19-md-02885. Both are in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

The 3M Earplug MDL Review

Formed in 2019, the 3m Earplug MDL includes more than 280,000 service members and others who say they suffer hearing damage from using 3M CAEv2 earplugs. Claimants in these cases say the plugs were defective, causing auditory problems such as tinnitus and/or hearing loss. 

The 3M company has argued to Judge Rogers that former U.S. service members were allowed to flood the docket with unvetted claims.

In a May 9 blog post, 3M claimed: “There is currently no way to know how many filers of these claims will complete the necessary steps to revive their claims, much less reach trial. Requiring expedient vetting could help provide greater certainty into the actual number of cases in the MDL.”

However, Judge Rodgers has disputed 3M’s argument that a lack of filing fees and other filing requirements have opened the earplug docket to frivolous claims. Judge Rogers rejected 3M’s request to require more than 180,000 plaintiffs to immediately pay filing fees. She said the fees were never waived. Furthermore, she said there was no feasible way forward which could accelerate payments as 3M had requested.

On April 6, 2022, the judge said: “Defendants offer only a fallacy, namely that absent the administrative docket, they would be facing a small fraction of the claims now pending in the MDL, and requiring immediate payment of all filing fees would winnow the inventory to a trivial size.”

Meanwhile, no 3M earplug claimant has received any compensation, as all the plaintiffs’ wins have been appealed by Defendants.

Stay tuned for the latest at Matthews & Associates Law Firm.

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