Massive 3M Earplug Litigation Becomes Largest MDL in U.S. History

3M’s Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2), were used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq from about 2001 through 2015 when more than two million service members were deployed. Thousands of military veterans and servicemembers allege that the earplugs were defective and failed to protect their hearing as expected. In 2018, 3M paid $9.1 million to the U.S. government to settle claims it hid earplug defects, though the company did so without admitting liability.

Over 230,000 actions have been consolidated to Multidistrict Litigation in U.S. District Court Northern District of Florida under Judge Casey Rogers, making it the largest MDL in history, even larger than the asbestos MDL and the J&J talc MDL. The plaintiffs in these cases allege that the earplugs did not fit in the ear canal properly and failed to protect the wearer from damage.

3M Earplug Litigation – MDL and Bellwether Trials

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation determines if federally filed cases should be consolidated to one court for pretrial proceedings. The goal of consolidation is varied but includes saving court time and resources and increasing efficacy for both plaintiffs and defense.

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Bellwether trials are used to gauge the evidence and strategies used by both the plaintiffs and defendants. While some MDLs will have one bellwether trial, others may have several trials representing the spectrum of cases involved in the MDL. According to court documents, two of the bellwether trials involve hearing loss and tinnitus, and the third includes hearing loss and related conditions.

Servicemember Hearing Loss and Tinnitus

According to the complaints, servicemembers were unaware the earplugs were defective and believed they were receiving personal protective equipment that would adequately protect their hearing from being damaged.

Some of the military members who received the earplugs allege they are now forced to hearing aids, and many suffer tinnitus, a ringing in the ears that can be intermittent or nearly non-stop. According to the Veterans Benefits Administration, hearing loss and tinnitus are two of the most common service-related disabilities reported.

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