On Friday, April 8, 2022, a federal jury found for 3M in a suit against the company alleging defective design of earplugs. The plaintiff, Denise Kelley, is a veteran of the Army who served in Kuwait and Iraq. She claimed the defective design led to her hearing loss and tinnitus.
Kelley’s case differed from many of the previous bellwether trials because she had no combat service and limited exposure to loud noises. While on the stand, defense questioned Kelley about her weapons training. Without combat experience, weapons training would be her primary exposure to loud noise.
The trials were held in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Claims against 3M are consolidated there in a Multidistrict litigation (“MDL”). There are more than 280,000 cases pending against 3M from veterans and servicemembers. Plaintiffs similarly claim that 3M’s earplugs were defectively designed. They allege that the defective design prevented the earplugs from providing protection to servicemembers and that this failure led to tinnitus and/or hearing loss.
There have now been 14 bellwether trials. Plaintiffs have won eight of the bellwether trials with over $200 million having been awarded to plaintiffs in those trials. 3M has claimed six defense verdicts in the bellwether trials. This was the fourth trial in 2022 for the 3M Earplug litigation. Two more trials are currently scheduled for this year.
The 15th trial is set to begin on April 18. The 16th trial is set to begin on May 9. The 16th trial will end what is being described as “Phase 1” of the 3M earplug bellwether trials. The details of Phase 2 of the 3M litigation are still being pending. The MDL judge has indicated that Phase 2 may entail large groups of plaintiffs tried in single trials.
The MDL is In re: 3M Combat Arms Earplug Products Liability Litigation, case number 3:19-md-02885, in the same court.
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