The latest trials over allegedly defective 3M earplugs ended with one victory for military plaintiffs and one for the Maplewood-based company.
A federal jury in Tallahassee on Monday awarded a 47-year-old U.S. Army sergeant $13 million in damages for hearing loss and tinnitus associated with his use of 3M earplugs. So far, it's the largest award against 3M in the massive earplug litigation.
Late Friday, a federal jury in Pensacola rejected claims by a Tennessee U.S. Army veteran that his hearing loss and tinnitus were caused by 3M earplugs.
After seven bellwether trials, plaintiffs have scored four victories, winning monetary damages totaling $30 million. Three juries have rejected all claims against 3M.
The trials are part of what appears to be the largest U.S. mass tort ever, involving legal claims against 3M from more than 250,000 veterans and military personnel. Plaintiffs say the earplugs were knowingly defective, and that 3M failed to properly warn them about the alleged flaws.
3M, which stopped selling Combat Arms CAEv2 earplugs in 2015, has maintained the product was sound.
In Monday's verdict, Guillermo Camarillorazo was awarded $816,395 in compensatory damages and $12.2 million in punitive damages. Camarillorazo, an active-duty soldier, joined the Army in 2001 and has been deployed multiple times in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Camarillorazo jury "found beyond a reasonable doubt that the company engaged in intentional, punitive conduct," plaintiffs' attorneys said in a press statement. "Sergeant Guillermo [Camarillorazo] is now the sixth servicemember who has successfully held 3M accountable for putting profits over the safety of those who served our nation."
The case decided in 3M's favor Friday involved Joseph Palanki, 50, who retired from the military in 2020 after serving in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard.
The "verdict in the Palanki case is an important demonstration that jurors agree 3M's CAEv2 product was safe and effective to use," 3M said in a statement. "This result, along with previous outcomes, supports our position in this and future litigation on this matter."
The 3M earplug lawsuits are roped together in Pensacola in a multidistrict litigation, or MDL, case, which is used in the federal court system for complex product liability matters with many separate claims. MDL cases commonly feature bellwether trials, which set a tone for resolving all claims.
Three more bellwether trials are scheduled for this year.
In the first bellwether in April, a jury awarded $7.1 million — mostly in punitive damages — to three U.S. Army veterans. In the second trial in May, 3M prevailed when the jury rejected the plaintiff's claims.
A third jury in June awarded $1.7 million to Army veteran Lloyd Baker, siding with his claim of 3M's "failure to warn" about the earplugs' risks. The jury held 3M 62% liable for Baker's hearing injuries and Baker himself 38% liable, meaning he will receive closer to $1.1 million.
A fourth jury in October awarded an Army veteran $8.2 million in compensatory damages. The fifth trial, also in October, ended with a verdict in 3M's favor.
3M became a giant in the military earplug market when it bought Aearo Technologies in 2008. The wave of claims against 3M came after the company in 2018 settled a government whistleblower suit regarding the earplugs.
That suit was brought by rival ear plug maker Moldex-Metric on the U.S. government's behalf, after an inquiry by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. The suit claimed Aearo knew about "dangerous design defects" in its earplugs in 2000.
In a 2018 report, the Army concluded that had the government known about tests Aearo ran in 2000, it might not have purchased Combat Arms earplugs. In the whistleblower settlement, 3M paid a $9.1 million penalty but denied all claims and did not admit liability.