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Trial Begins in Florida for Massive Lawsuit Over 3M’s Military-Issued Earplugs

More than 229,000 veterans are involved in a lawsuit against 3M that has begun with jury selection. They claim that their hearing problems are linked to faulty earplugs issued by the military.

The multi-district litigation claims that the company that manufactured the earplugs, 3M and its predecessor Aearo, were made aware during testing that their product did not fit properly into an ear and could loosen. The lawsuit is also claiming that testing results shown to the military before the purchase were done with a modification to the earplug. The military was told that this modification was not required to achieve full protection.

Three veterans were selected as “bellweather” trials in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Florida under Judge M. Casey Rogers. These are essential test trials that will help determine the strength of the case before looking for a settlement for all cases. It also helps as an indicator for the costs of subsequent litigation.

Two of the three veterans have heaving loss and tinnitus. The third suffers hearing loss and conditions related to it.

The earplugs in question were used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to block out loud gunfire and other loud sources of sound. Exposure to these levels of volume without proper protection can lead to a number of problems related to hearing.

Hearing loss and tinnitus, described as ringing or buzzing in the ears, are the two most common conditions among all 229,000 veterans involved in the lawsuit. Furthermore, these two conditions are the most prevalent service-connected disabilities identified by the VA. Approximately 1.79 million veterans were compensated for tinnitus in 2017 and 1.16 million were compensated for hearing loss, according to the Hearing Health Foundation.

Product development for the earplug in question began in the late 1990s and was sold to the military until 2015. No recall was ever issued and Version 4 of the earplug remains in use by the military today. The company’s stance on the issue has been one of vigorous defense. They’ve denied that their product is defective and could have caused these injuries.

Though they did not admit to any wrongdoing, 3M did agree to pay $9.1 million in July of 2018 to resolve allegations that it knowingly sold the earplugs without disclosing the defects. A series of lawsuits were filed by veterans following that decision. All of the claims were combined into a tort case, in which each plaintiff is treated as an individual instead of group.

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