A Florida federal jury hit 3M with a $7.1 million verdict Friday, most of it punitive damages, in the first bellwether trial in a massive multidistrict litigation involving military members’ claims that their hearing was irreparably harmed because the company’s combat earplugs didn’t work.
The jury awarded $2.1 million in punitive damages to each of the plaintiffs: Stephen Hacker, a 20-year Army vet who started experiencing bilateral tinnitus in 2006; Luke Estes, a former tank platoon leader at Fort Benning in Georgia who started losing hearing and developed ringing in both ears in 2014; and Lewis Keefer, an Army medic who used the earplugs at Fort Benning and in the line of duty in Iraq who gradually starting to lose his hearing.
The jury awarded an additional $160,000 to Hacker for pain and suffering; an additional $350,500 to Estes for medical costs, lost earnings, and pain and suffering; and an additional $320,000 to Keefer in medical costs, lost earnings, and pain and suffering, according to their lawyers.
The trial, which started March 29, brought before a jury the first three of as many as 240,000 total claims in the MDL.
3M has argued that the military bears responsibility for the way the earplugs were designed and delivered.
The lawyers said in a statement Friday the three showed courage in “standing up against 3M on behalf of all the veterans who now face preventable hearing loss and tinnitus as a result of the CAEv2 earplugs. The evidence is clear: 3M knew their earplugs were defective, yet they allowed our servicemembers to suffer these life-altering injuries.”