Tens of thousands of veterans in Texas and around the country who suffered hearing loss during training or while on deployment despite wearing earplugs will likely be pleased to learn that a federal jury has ordered the 3M Company to pay three former service members $7.1 million. Almost a quarter of a million veterans have filed lawsuits claiming that the Minnesota-based corporation knew its Combat Arms earplugs were inadequate but sold them to the military anyway.
The manufacturer’s problems began when a whistleblower revealed that it had made false claims about the performance of its CAEv2 earplugs. The company agreed to pay the U.S. military $9.1 million to settle the subsequent lawsuit. This gave veterans who suffered hearing loss, ear damage or tinnitus because the earplugs did not fit properly the opportunity to pursue product liability litigation. Attorneys representing the veterans say the results of internal tests show that 3M was aware of the fitting problem.
3M denies wrongdoing and plans to appeal
A statement released by 3M shortly after the award was announced said the company disagreed with the jury’s decision and will likely file an appeal. The manufacturer began distributing Combat Arms earplugs in 2008 when it acquired Aearo Technologies. The earplugs were designed to muffle the sounds of gunshots and jet engines but allow voice commands to be heard. They were issued to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and withdrawn in 2015. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida is handling the initial cases. At least two more trials are scheduled.
Product liability litigation
The outcome of this case reveals that juries may award significant damages when they are convinced that product manufacturers knowingly sold defective products that caused serious injuries. When pursuing this kind of litigation, experienced personal injury attorneys could seek punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages when the facts suggest that the defendant acted with malice and gross indifference to the safety of others. Punitive damages are awarded to deter others from engaging in the same kind of behavior.