3M has lost the first trial over military earplugs linked to hearing loss, with a federal jury in Pensacola, Florida awarding $2.4 million each to three veterans who lost their hearing.
The earplugs were issued to service members in the Army, Navy and Air Force from 2003 to 2015, when 3M stopped selling them.
Since then, around 240,000 military service members have filed claims for hearing loss related to the earplugs, according to 3M.
The “bellwether” trial in Florida was the first case to test the strength of evidence and estimate how a jury might award damages, which may help shape a settlement in other lawsuits.
All of the lawsuits involve 3M’s two-sided yellow-and-green earplugs, known as Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2).
One side was supposed to allow the wearer to hear speech and orders when under fire, while the other side was supposed to provide greater protection from intense sounds like explosions.
Unfortunately, many service members in Iraq and Afghanistan complained that the earplugs were too short to fit snugly in the ear canal. This could cause the earplug to loosen imperceptibly.
Lawyers for the veterans said, “The evidence is clear: 3M knew their earplugs were defective, yet they allowed our service members to suffer these life-altering injuries.”
After a 5-week trial, the Florida jury awarded $2.4 million to each of the three plaintiffs — a 20-year Army veteran who developed tinnitus in 2006; a former tank platoon leader who started to lose hearing in 2014; and an Army medic in Fort Benning and Iraq.