3M Wins Lawsuit Alleging Defective Earplugs Resulted In Soldier Deafness
3M recently announced a major victory in a lawsuit that alleged they sold defective earplugs to the U.S. military that resulted in several soldiers losing their hearing. A federal jury, however, sided with the company and found that the company’s earplugs did not cause the soldiers’ deafness.
This is the second of three trials that could determine whether or not over 200,000 U.S. soldiers who lost hearing were sold defective equipment by the company. 3M lost the first trial and was forced to pay $7.1 million to three army veterans who suffered hearing loss and tinnitus. The second trial, which the plaintiff lost, involved one plaintiff who claimed to have suffered hearing loss as a result of the defective earplugs.
236,000 veterans are a part of multi-district lawsuits against the company. The soldiers claim that the company made material misrepresentations about their products. 3M stands by their combat earplugs and insists that they are safe and effective to use. Plaintiffs say that the earplug can become dislodged subtly leaving the wearer without protection. No recall was ever issued, and a new generation of the same earplugs are still in use by the military. However, 3M was forced to pay over $9 million to resolve allegations that they knowingly sold defective equipment to the U.S. military.
Bellwether trials are those that seek to test the waters on specific claims. There are three lawsuits scheduled, two of which are now over. These trials provide both sides with a guesstimate on what the total damages will be, which claims will be honored, and what a final settlement should look like. The loss of the second trial could present future litigants with a hurdle to overcome.
The second trial presented more difficulty than the first because the plaintiffs did not have regular exposure to artillery or helicopters or other machinery that could produce sounds loud enough to destroy someone’s hearing. The plaintiffs focused on 3M’s conduct, the coverup, and the fines levied against the company. However, the plaintiffs failed to directly connect the hearing loss to the failure of the 3M equipment. This, in fact, resulted in the loss of the trial.
Such a trial can set a bar on the criteria for honoring specific claims against 3M in the future. With one win for the defense and another for the plaintiffs, it is likely that jurors are looking for specific proof that the veteran was exposed to loud noises on a regular basis and relied on 3M earplugs to protect their hearing. Nonetheless, soldiers who wore 3M earplugs appear to be suffering symptoms related to the loss of hearing.
It seems there is more similarity than difference between the first set of plaintiffs who won their case with a large jury award and the second set of plaintiffs who received nothing at all. In the first trial, 3M was hit with punitive damages for gross negligence and willful misconduct. In the second trial, 3M was cleared of allegations of negligence. So, two outcomes couldn’t be more different.
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