U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers of the Northern District of Florida, who is presiding over the 3M Earplugs (CAEv2) MDL, issued a decision on Monday, July 27th, that denies 3M’s defense for immunity as a government contractor. The judge stated that 3M did not have a contract with the army and that the U.S. Military was only a purchaser of the earplugs, and had no involvement in the design. This key ruling allows over 7,800 lawsuits to move forward based on central allegations of design defect and failure to warn claims. The defect in the earplugs triggered hearing loss and ringing in the ears, a condition called tinnitus, to over 140,000 service members.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs praised the judge’s decision and emphasized that there is evidence that 3M was well aware of the malfunction of the earplugs, and disregarded their obligation of informing the army while profiting from the earplugs.
Lawyers for 3M continue to support that the company designed the devices according to the army’s specifications and testing and that the earplugs are not defective.
The army purchased the CAEv2 earplugs from 3M for 9 years (2003-2012). The original manufacturer, Aearo Technologies, was acquired by 3M in 2007. Although the company was aware of the issue with the earplugs, they fixed it just enough to get the army’s business. The earplugs were discontinued in 2015. The U.S. Department of Justice raised similar allegations in 2016 that resulted in 3M’s agreement to pay $9.1 M.