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Veterans Seek to Block Bankruptcy Filing in 3M Earplugs Litigation

Riddle Brantley LLP   |  August 19, 2022   |  

3M Aims to Minimize Earplugs Lawsuit Liability with Subsidiary Bankruptcy

Plaintiffs argue that 3M should not be able to avoid or minimize liability in earplugs lawsuits through a subsidiary bankruptcy filing.A group of veterans seeks to block 3M from shifting liability for defective earplug lawsuits onto a bankrupt subsidiary to settle record-breaking mass tort litigation. Plaintiffs claim that 3M’s defective Combat Arms earplugs caused serious hearing loss and tinnitus among thousands of U.S. combat veterans.

Plaintiffs in the multidistrict litigation filed two motions in Pensacola, Florida, federal court arguing that 3M’s Aearo Technologies subsidiary — the original manufacturer of the earplugs — should not escape or reduce liability in nearly 300,000 earplug lawsuits by declaring bankruptcy.

While the judge has already denied this motion, another motion has been filed by an independent plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction under the All Writs Act. This act authorizes federal judges to issue injunctions to protect their jurisdiction. This plaintiff hopes that such an injunction will halt Aearo Technologies’ bankruptcy proceedings and allow litigation to proceed in their case.

3M continues to push back against attempts to block the bankruptcy proceedings. The company also strongly denies liability and/or wrongdoing.

3M’s Response to Bankruptcy Filing Dispute

According to a statement by 3M, “the well-established chapter 11 process is intended to achieve an efficient and equitable resolution, reduce uncertainty, and increase clarity for all stakeholders while reducing the cost and time that could otherwise be required to litigate thousands of cases.”

3M has reason to be concerned about potential costs associated with the earplugs lawsuits.

Plaintiffs have won 10 of 16 trials involving 19 service members in earplug suits, Aearo said in its bankruptcy petition. The company has already earmarked $1 billion to settle the disputes.

In addition to the more than 100,000 claims already filed, there are another 120,000 claims still pending. The overwhelming number of cases could take years to litigate one by one and could prove financially disastrous for 3M, which is likely what prompted the bankruptcy filing.

Why is 3M Being Sued?

Lawsuits allege that 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs, which were designed to protect military members’ hearing while still allowing them to hear spoken commands, caused long-term, irreversible hearing damage due to an alleged design flaw.

3M reportedly failed to adequately notify the U.S. military and its personnel about the issue. Plaintiffs also allege that 3M failed to take steps to improve the design flaws.

Earplug Bellwether Trial Verdicts

"3M's bankruptcy maneuver threatens victims' right to justice. We are determined to fight for our veterans." -Gene Riddle3M has already been hit with hundreds of millions of dollars in damages awarded to plaintiffs in early bellwether trials.

A $21.7 million reward was awarded to U.S. Army veteran William Wayman after a federal judge reduced his $55 million jury award against 3M. However, this was a small victory for 3M since millions of dollars have been awarded to claimants in bellwether trials over the last few years.

Large verdicts have been handed down in these bellwether trials. Ronald Sloan was also awarded $55 million in damages in the same trial as William Wayman, while James Beal collected $77.5 million in another Army service member trial.

The $299 million in damages awarded in the bellwether trials is a serious setback for 3M, in light of all that has occurred.

3M has also had to defend against several private lawsuits involving the allegedly defective earplugs. In 2021, the Department of Justice resolved a whistleblower suit filed against 3M under the False Claims Act for $9.1 million. This lawsuit alleged that 3M misled the U.S. Department of Defense about the efficacy of its military earplugs. As a condition of the suit, 3M did not admit any liability.

What’s Next for 3M?

Despite the many setbacks, 3M has declined to accept responsibility for the damage allegedly caused by its earplugs. After the bellwether trials, 3M believes it will be unable to continue funding litigation and award payments, so it is now focusing on using the bankruptcy process to resolve these claims.

This constant resistance and desire to slow down litigation through a bankruptcy filing has moved defendants to petition to block this bankruptcy process and force 3M to either settle with defendants or continue with litigation.

Will the Bankruptcy Filing Affect My 3M Earplug Claim?

There are many unanswered questions about how the Aearo Technologies bankruptcy filing will affect litigation already underway. If you’re planning on filing a 3M earplug claim, it is best to work an earplug lawsuit attorney who can advise you on your best available legal options.

Riddle & Brantley can assist you if you served in active combat between 2003 and 2015 and believe that 3M Combat Arms earplugs caused permanent hearing damage.

Please call 1-800-525-7111 to talk to one of our experienced trial lawyers in a free, no-obligation consultation. We can help you better understand how the latest bankruptcy filing may impact your situation and assist you in filing your 3M earplugs claim or lawsuit.

Justice Counts for those who have sacrificed for our country. We are ready to serve those who served us all.