A Florida federal jury sided with a veteran who said he suffered hearing loss while using 3M earplugs during training and his tour in Afghanistan, awarding the serviceman $8 million in damages, in the latest bellwether trial in the sprawling multidistrict litigation.
After a nine-day trial, a Tallahassee jury determined that 3M fraudulently and negligently misrepresented information about its earplugs, designed by its subsidiary Aearo Technologies LLC. The verdict pinned 100% of the hearing loss sustained by former U.S. Army National Guard soldier Steven Wilkerson, on 3M.
This verdict comes on the same day a Pensacola jury awarded $50 million to a former Army howitzer gunner who claimed to have lost his hearing due to 3M’s product. Overall, the MDL includes more than 280,000 service members and others alleging hearing damage as a result of using 3M’s CAEv2 earplugs.
In total, there have been 13 bellwether trials. So far, the plaintiffs have won at eight, and 3M has prevailed in five of them. Eleven out of 16 individuals who’ve presented their case before a jury secured money from 3M
The jury rejected such claims as the design of the earplugs was defective and that 3M concealed information about the earplugs that led to Wilkerson’s hearing loss.
Wilkerson, a 43-year-old resident of Lucedale, Mississippi, served in the U.S. Army from 1999 to 2002, and later the Army National Guard from 2005 to 2013. He used the CAEv2 earplugs as his “primary hearing protection” in his role as a combat engineer from 2010 to 2013.
He was first issued the CAEv2 in 2010 while training in Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and later during his time in Afghanistan, which ended in 2011. He retired from the military in 2013. Wilkerson claimed that the earplugs provided poor protection and ultimately caused his hearing loss in both ears.
His lawsuit, filed in January 2020, claims 3M failed to warn him of known design defects with the earplugs. It also accused the company of fraud and violating consumer protection laws.
The MDL was created in April 2019 and includes cases brought by hundreds of thousands of military veterans and service members. The cases allege that 3M and subsidiary Aearo Technologies LLC supplied CAEv2 earplugs that were defective. Meanwhile, 3M argues the military bears some responsibility for how the earplugs were designed and delivered. The jury in the Wilkerson trial had the option but assigned 0% of the blame on the United States.
The largest verdict awarded, $110 million in January, was to service members William Wayman and Ronald Sloan.
In December, Pensacola juries found that 3M was not liable for the hearing loss of U.S. Army veterans Carter Stelling and Carlos Montero.
In February, U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, the Florida federal judge overseeing the MDL, ordered a wave of 500 cases to be prepared to go to trial, which brought the total number of cases to 1,000. She previously ordered that the cases be sped up, pointing to an “unprecedented backlog” of more than 250,000 cases.