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January 30, 2019

Military Earplug Hearing Loss Lawsuit Possible Consolidation

Former military service members continue to come forward to hold 3M accountable for military earplug hearing loss. Consequently, a request for centralization of the federal litigation for pretrial proceedings before one District Judge is now pending.

Currently, there are at least eight product liability lawsuits over permanent earplug hearing loss. The lawsuits against 3M Company and its Aearo Technologies unit are pending all across the county. The plaintiffs all cite similar allegations that the companies knowingly supplied the military with defective earplugs between 2003 and late 2015. As a result, many of these service members have suffered permanent hearing loss following military service.

Aearo originally introduced the Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2). 3M Company would later go on to acquire the company along with its defective product lines. The manufacturer designed the dual ended, or reversible, earplugs to work as traditional earplugs one way. The other end filtered and reduced noise to block loud battlefield noises so that the wearer could still hear spoken commands.

According to complaints currently pending in several different District Courts, the manufacturers knew and concealed the earplugs' dangerous defects. Specifically, the earplugs were too short to properly fit in the ear. Consequently, the earplugs failed to seal the ear canal, leaving military service members without adequate hearing protection.

Earplug Hearing Loss Lawsuit Motion to Transfer

Plaintiff John Ciaccio filed the motion to transfer with the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) on January 25. Ciaccio is asking for the JPML to consolidate all the cases currently pending in the federal court system in the District of Minnesota. The multidistrict litigation (MDL) would coordinate pretrial proceedings to avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and duplicative discovery that can further delay the dissemination of justice in these complex litigations.

“Based on Movant’s Counsel’s research and given that the U.S. military purchased enough Combat Arms earplugs to provide one pair to all military personnel deployed each year in major foreign engagements from 2003 through 2015, Movant reasonably anticipates that thousands of other actions with similar allegations are likely to follow,” the motion states.

Centralizing federal lawsuits for pretrial proceedings in a complex product liability litigation is fairly common. This is especially true when a large number of individuals with similar injuries from the same product have cases pending throughout the federal court system. But, if parties are not able to reach settlement agreements during the MDL discovery process or after a series of early “bellwether” trials, the court may remand the claims back to their original district courts for separate trial dates.

“The individual complaints in the Related Actions involve overlapping causes of action that give rise to questions of fact about the same product defect and Defendants’ knowledge thereof, that are not merely common, but virtually identical,” the motion further states. “Centralizing the Related Actions will thus allow for coordinated discovery efforts aimed at the product defect and Defendants’ knowledge thereof, as well as coordinated motion practice related to any defenses Defendants may raise that will largely be generally applicable to all cases.”

Earplug Hearing Loss Settlement

In July 2018, 3M reached a $9.1 million settlement agreement with the Department of Justice over Combat Arms earplug hearing loss problems. The settlement resolved claims that 3M knowingly defrauded the government by consciously selling patently defective earplugs. Consequently, the government had to address the subsequent hearing loss of soldiers from the earplugs.

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