Combat Earplug Trial 3m

3M Hit With $6 Million Punitive Damages by U.S. Jury in First Combat Earplug Trial

3M Co was found liable on Friday for hearing damage suffered by three U.S. military veterans who accused the company of covering up design defects in its earplugs, a blow to 3M which faces more than 200,000 similar claims.


The jury awarded each of the plaintiffs $2.1 million in punitive damages and a total of $830,500 in compensatory damages for their medical expenses, lost earnings and pain and suffering.

More than 230,000 service members, veterans and others have filed claims blaming 3M earplugs for causing hearing loss.

The company was accused of hiding design flaws, fudging test results and failing to instruct the military in proper use of the earplugs, which were used by the Army between 2007 and 2013.

The distinct yellow-and-green plugs, used widely by the U.S. Army and other branches, were designed to fully block noise if inserted in one direction, while in the opposite direction the plugs would let in nearby voices but still shield the ear from harmful ballistic noises.

Minnesota-based 3M has stood by the safety of the earplugs, which it stopped selling in 2015. A company spokeswoman said Friday they disagree with the verdict and don’t believe plaintiffs met the burden of proving the “product was defectively or negligently designed” or caused the veterans’ purported injuries. The company, she said, will evaluate “multiple grounds for appeal.”

Attorneys for the veterans said: “The evidence is clear: 3M knew their earplugs were defective, yet they allowed our service members to suffer these life-altering injuries.

“he jury verdict follows a five-week trial in U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla. The proceeding, along with trials scheduled to take place in May and June, are intended to help shape the outcome of the tens of thousands of other claims that have been consolidated in the Florida court through a process known as multidistrict litigation.

Jury verdicts can help set benchmarks for settlement negotiations or provide support for a company’s strategy to keep defending itself against the claims.

The jury on Friday awarded each of the three veterans $2.1 million in punitive damages, plus recoveries for medical expenses, lost earnings and pain and suffering.

The number of earplug plaintiffs far surpasses those suing over alleged harms from any other product or drug, including weedkiller, baby powder and blood thinners.

3M said in a statement it did not believe the plaintiffs met their burden in proving the plugs were defectively or negligently designed or that the plugs caused injuries. The company said it believed there were multiple grounds for appeal.

“We remain confident in our case and are ready to defend ourselves against plaintiffs’ allegations at the upcoming trials,” 3M said.

Shares of 3M were down 1.4% after the verdict, trading at $196.22 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Most of the lawsuits against 3M over the earplugs have been brought by army veterans between the ages of 30 and 49. The litigation is the largest mass tort ever brought in federal court.

The “bellwether” trial in Florida which consolidated three lawsuits, was meant to test the strength of the evidence and gauge damages so that the parties could potentially shape a deal to resolve the other cases.

The next bellwether trial over the earplugs begins on May 17. Around 240,000 service members have alleged hearing damage from the earplugs and 3,349 have filed lawsuits, according to 3M’s most recent quarterly report.

More than 1 million veterans receive compensation for hearing loss, which is the leading service-related disability, according to 2015 government data.

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