3M Company, a multinational conglomerate based in Minnesota, faces over 200,000 lawsuits in federal court in Florida in February 2023.
The lawsuit alleges that 3M knowingly sold defective earplugs to the U.S. military from 2003 to 2015 without disclosing the defect, which caused the earplugs to loosen and not adequately protect the user’s hearing. The lawsuit further claims that the company was aware of the problem for years but continued to sell the earplugs and even falsified test results to maintain its lucrative contract with the U.S. government.
As a result of this defect, thousands of military service members and veterans have suffered from permanent hearing damage, which has led to significant hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and other related conditions. The lawsuit seeks compensation for the affected individuals and damages for the company’s alleged fraud and negligence.
What Is Tinnitus?
Exposure to loud sounds can cause tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in the ears. The sounds that cause tinnitus can be either continuous or intermittent and can range from mild to extremely loud. Tinnitus is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide and can be caused by various factors, including exposure to loud sounds.
When the inner ear is exposed to loud sounds, the delicate hair cells that convert sound waves into electrical signals can become damaged or destroyed. This damage can cause the hair cells to misfire and send false signals to the brain, resulting in the perception of sound when there is no external sound present. This perceived sound is known as tinnitus.
The severity of tinnitus can vary depending on the exposure to loud sounds and the length of time the exposure occurs. Sometimes, tinnitus can be temporary and go away on its own. However, in many cases, tinnitus can become permanent, and the individual may experience it for the rest of their life.
If you have tinnitus, treatment options available, including therapy, sound therapy, and medication, can help manage the symptoms and improve your quality of life.
In conclusion, exposure to loud sounds can cause tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in the ears. By taking steps to protect your hearing and seeking treatment if you experience tinnitus, you can reduce your risk of developing this condition and improve your quality of life.
Symptoms of Tinnitus
- Ringing in the ears: This is the most common symptom of tinnitus, and individuals may hear a high-pitched or low-pitched ringing sound in one or both ears.
- Buzzing: Some individuals may hear a buzzing or humming sound instead of ringing.
- Hissing: Some individuals may hear a hissing sound, similar to white noise.
- Beeping: Some individuals may hear beeping or pulsing sounds, like a heartbeat.
- Roaring: Some individuals may hear a low, roar-like sound.
- Chirping: Some individuals may hear chirping or squeaking sounds, similar to the sound of birds.
- Difficulty concentrating: Tinnitus can be distracting and make it difficult to concentrate on tasks.
- Sleep disturbances: Tinnitus can interfere with sleep, causing individuals to have trouble falling or staying asleep.
- Anxiety and depression: Tinnitus can cause anxiety and depression, and some individuals may feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Tinnitus is a condition that can be difficult to treat, and the approach to treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the tinnitus. However, several treatments may help to manage the symptoms of tinnitus, including:
- Sound therapy: This involves using sounds, such as white noise, to distract from the tinnitus and help reduce the tinnitus’s perceived volume.
- Counseling and therapy: This can help individuals manage tinnitus’s emotional and psychological effects and can include cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, and stress management techniques.
- Medications: In some cases, medications, such as anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants, can help to manage the symptoms of tinnitus.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT): This form of sound therapy uses counseling and sound therapy to retrain the brain to ignore tinnitus.
- Devices: There are several devices, such as hearing aids, that can help to mask tinnitus and improve hearing, which can help to reduce the symptoms of tinnitus.
- Alternative therapies: Some individuals find relief from tinnitus through alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, hypnosis, or herbal remedies.
Working with a doctor or specialist is essential to determine the best approach to treating tinnitus. Multiple treatments may sometimes be necessary to manage the symptoms effectively. Additionally, it’s essential to avoid exposure to loud sounds and to take steps to protect your hearing, as this can help to reduce the risk of tinnitus and other hearing problems.
The 3M earplugs litigation is now the largest consolidated mass tort in U.S. history. At its peak, there were nearly 300,000 individual plaintiffs (mostly military veterans or active service members) with cases pending in the MDL. The litigation has been a long saga with ups and downs for both sides.
The 3M earplugs litigation is unique among mass torts in that we can actually identify a single time and event as the origin of the entire litigation. In July 2018, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to resolve a False Claims Act lawsuit. The government accused 3M of defrauding the U.S. Army by selling defective earplugs over 15 years.
News of this settlement is what led to the subsequent mass tort litigation. As word of the settlement and the admission that the Army had been giving soldiers defective earplugs spread, military veterans around the country began filing product liability lawsuits against 3M. The lawsuits alleged that the veterans suffered hearing loss and tinnitus because the defective 3M earplugs failed to protect the soldiers from the damaging effects of loud noise.
The 3M earplug lawsuits pending in the federal court system were soon consolidated into a new class action MDL assigned to Judge M. Casey Rogers in the Northern District of Florida (3M Prod. Liab. Lit., MDL No. 2885). The size of the 3M earplugs class action rapidly expanded as more and more Army veterans with hearing loss came forward to file claims. Within 16 months after the MDL was created, it had become the biggest mass tort ever with over 150,000 plaintiffs.
In May of 2021, the first bellwether test trial was held and resulted in a federal jury in Florida awarding a group of 3 plaintiffs $7.1 million in damages. From that point forward, the bellwether test trials just kept coming. We saw 5 trials in the Summer and Fall and in November and December of 2021, we got results in 5 separate bellwether trials. 6 more cases went to trial between January and May 2022.
In the end, there were 16 bellwether test trials involving the claims of 19 individual plaintiffs. The plaintiffs won 10 out of the 6 trials, and total damages awarded against 3M were just under $300 million.
3M’s Bankruptcy Strategy
Heading into Summer 2022, there was optimism that the 3M earplugs class action might be getting close to the global settlement. The bellwether trials were over, and 3M was under pressure from investors to resolve the ongoing liability and move forward. 3M even participated in a court-ordered settlement mediation session in July.
In August 2022, however, 3M surprised everyone by unveiling a highly controversial plan designed to pull the earplug claims out of the MDL and force them to be resolved in a bankruptcy proceeding.
3M attempted to do this by suddenly claiming that the party responsible for the earplug claims was actually its subsidiary Aearo Technologies (“Aearo”). The 3M immediately had Aearo file bankruptcy to push the earplug lawsuits into bankruptcy where 3M could leverage a better settlement deal.
Aearo originally designed and made the 3M earplugs at the heart of the litigation (the Combat Arms earplugs). But in 2008 3M acquired Aearo, which became a paper subsidiary and essentially ceased to exist. Aearo’s products, employees, offices, and everything else became 3M’s products and employees.
During the first 3 years of the litigation, 3M never suggested that Aearo was a separate, independent entity. 3M never claimed that Aearo, and not 3M, was the party with liability for the earplug lawsuits. It wasn’t until 3M devised its bankruptcy strategy that it suddenly claimed that Aearo was a separate company and was responsible for the earplug claims.
A bankruptcy judge in Indiana promptly rejected 3M’s request to have the Aearo bankruptcy stay extended to 3M. This decision effectively denied 3M’s entire strategy. The ruling is currently on appeal to the 7th Circuit.
MDL Judge Issues Unprecedented Sanctions Against 3M
In December 2022, the 3M earplug MDL Judge (Hon. Casey Rodgers) imposed a judicial sanction barring 3M from attempting to pawn liability for the earplug claims off onto Aearo (or any other subsidiary). The sanction ruling effectively blows 3M’s entire bankruptcy strategy out of the water by forcing 3M to face sole liability for the earplug lawsuits.
Judge Rodgers issued the sanction ruling based on what she found to be 3M’s blatant abuse of the judicial process. The abuse of the judicial process occurred when 3M went through 3 years of litigation in the MDL without ever asserting that Aearo was the real party in interest, then suddenly asserting it as a defense when they were unhappy with the results in the MDL.
Judge Rodgers could have based her ruling on judicial estoppel or other civil procedure rules, but instead, she deliberately chose to use the courts’ power to impose sanctions. We believe that Judge Rodgers did this because the decision will be less likely to be overturned on appeal, since sanctions are within the trial court’s discretion and subject to limited review on appeal.
Get Compensation for Your 3M Earplug Tinnitus Claim
For those who have suffered from tinnitus due to using 3M’s earplugs, the lawsuit offers a chance to seek compensation for the harm they have suffered. Individuals joining the lawsuit can hold the company accountable for any negligence or fraud that may have led to their hearing damage.
Additionally, for those who have yet to experience hearing damage, it is crucial to be aware of the importance of proper hearing protection and to seek out products that have been tested and approved by reputable organizations. By taking these steps, individuals can protect their hearing and reduce the risk of developing hearing problems in the future.
If you or a loved one have suffered from hearing damage due to using 3M’s earplugs, you may be eligible to join the lawsuit and seek compensation for your injuries. A qualified attorney can help you understand your legal options and guide you through pursuing a claim.
Don’t wait to take action if you or a loved one have been affected by 3M’s allegedly defective earplugs. Contact a qualified attorney today to learn more about your legal options and how you can seek compensation for your injuries. You can reach out to us online for a free case evaluation.