As of April 2019, new approved procedures allow for the direct filing of future cases brought forth U.S. veterans impacted by the 3M military earplug scandal. These lawsuits may be brought to the 3M military earplug federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) centralized in the Northern District of Florida for pretrial and coordinated discovery proceedings.
Currently, about 600 product liability lawsuits against 3M are filed across the U.S. But, expected numbers of future lawsuits reach up into the tens of thousands. The U.S. military issued 3M Combat Arms Dual-Sided earplugs to service members between 2003 and 2015. Unfortunately, military officials were unaware of the injury risk for soldiers. The significant length of time the allegedly defective earplugs were distributed greatly contributes to the expected number of future 3M earplug lawsuits.
To consolidate similar cases and provide a more expedient way to address the abundant number of cases starting to flood in from around the country, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation decided to centralize all 3M earplug claims to a court in Pensacola, Florida.
U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers was recently appointed to preside over the federal 3M military earplug lawsuits. This week Judge Rodgers issued a Pretrial Order (PDF) that details the procedures necessary for direct filing of future cases. Judge Rodgers does note that directly filing in the MDL will not impact the choice of law that would have otherwise been applied if the case had been filed in another District Court.
Lawsuits in the MDL allege defects in the 3M earplugs contributed to the hearing loss, difficulties, and injuries of service members issued these earplugs. Servicemembers state they had no choice in whether or not to use the earplugs: they were standard issue. The majority of the claims allege that 3M failed to reveal design defects the company knew about before distribution. The dual-sided earplugs were meant to protect soldiers’ hearing when faced with harsh battlefield noises but still allow them to hear superiors’ commands. However, claims of a too-short earplug stem meant that the earplugs did not fit properly into service members’ ears, subjecting them to inadequate ear protection.
Those closely following the 3M MDL expect Judge Rodgers to establish a “bellwether” process as apart of the coordinated pretrial proceedings. This will allow for a small group of claims representing the majority of cases in the MDL to be prepared for early trial dates. Also, creating a “bellwether” process would help parties to assess how the juries may respond to types of evidence and testimonies repeated throughout the litigation.