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Largest Verdict Yet in 3M Military Earplug Lawsuits

Those serving this country in the military put themselves in harm’s way. Their commitment and dedication to our nation are heroic. However, what most soldiers don’t expect is to be injured by a product that was supposed to protect them while serving. Such is the case with military members who used 3M Combat Arms earplugs

Many soldiers experience the devastating effects of tinnitus through their position as service members. While the cause of tinnitus can vary from person to person, medical experts confirm that tinnitus is caused by injury to the ear, age-related hearing loss, or problems with the circulatory system. Tinnitus is often described as a buzzing, humming, hissing, clicking, or roaring sound heard in the ears.

Many with tinnitus have ringing in the ears that only they can hear. The noise levels can range from soft to a loud roar. Many who work in noisy environments, like soldiers, are at risk of developing tinnitus. While tinnitus is not a life-threatening ailment, it can and does disrupt daily living. Tinnitus affects each person differently and may lead to headaches, anxiety, depression, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, disruptions in sleep, stress and fatigue. Some may experience tinnitus in one ear, while others experience tinnitus in both ears.

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What Is Happening with 3M Earplug Lawsuits?

When William Wayman joined the Army in 1997, he didn’t expect to serve for ten years and end up with permanent hearing damage and tinnitus. He and countless other soldiers used 3M Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 during deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. After exploring legal channels, Wayman and fellow veteran Ronald Sloan sued 3M, alleging that they suffered the hearing loss while using 3M earplugs. They alleged that 3M failed to provide proper instructions, falsified test results, and hid design flaws in the earplugs. In January, jurors found for the plaintiffs and awarded each $40 million in punitive damages and $15 million in compensatory damages. 

U.S. District Justice M. Casey Rodgers reduced the jury award to Wayman in May, citing limits under Colorado law that affect the size of the award. Because of Wayman’s residency in Colorado, the $15 million compensatory damage award was reduced to $7.2 million due to Colorado’s cap on non-economic damages. In Colorado, punitive damages do not normally exceed actual damages, but punitive damages can be increased if the defendant is found to have “engaged in bad faith conduct.” In the series of 3M lawsuits, this award is the first to be reduced.

Also, the largest 3M earplug lawsuit verdict was awarded in May. Veteran James Beal was awarded $77.5 million. Beal served in the Army from 2005-2009 and remained in the Army Reserves until 2011. During his tours, he used 3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 while operating a variety of weapons. As a result of his service and exposure, Beal now suffers from tinnitus and hearing loss. In this case, the damages awarded to Beal are the largest amount awarded to an individual. Beal’s case was the last case heard as part of the 16 bellwether trials of the 3M multidistrict litigation (MDL).

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3M is facing more than 290,000 claims, alleging that the use of the 3M earplugs failed to protect people’s hearing, leading to hearing loss and tinnitus. It is estimated that this 3M case is the largest mass tort litigation in U.S. history. 

There were 16 court cases involving 19 plaintiffs conducted as part of the MDL bellwether trials. These cases were heard to determine the strength of the plaintiffs’ accusations and drive settlement discussions. In these 16 trials, the plaintiffs won their cases in 10 trials. Plaintiffs were awarded nearly $300 million in damages, including damages for Wayman, Sloan and Beal. In six cases, the juries sided with 3M.

With more than 290,000 claims before the courts, U.S. District Judge Rogers ordered mediation discussions between plaintiffs and 3M to begin in July. As the second phase of the MDL is set to begin, it is estimated that the MDL will combine 500 cases into groups to be tried at the same time. This action would send 2,500 to each of the U.S. District Courts across the country. There are 94 district courts in the U.S. As the bellwether trials have concluded, 3M and the countless number of plaintiffs have just begun to work through the legal system.