The jury listened to the evidence and returned a $22.5 million verdict against 3M. This is the largest penalty to date in a series of trials over allegedly defective earplugs manufactured by the Maplewood-based company. Late last week, a federal jury in Tallahassee, Fla., ruled in favor of Theodore Finley, who served in the U.S. Army from 2006 to 2014. Finley alleged that he developed bilateral tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss while wearing 3M-made earplugs as he worked around weapon fire, generators, mechanized vehicles, helicopters and during training and combat.
This was the eighth ruling against 3M regarding defective earplugs and the fifth where the plaintiff prevailed. The trials are part of what may end up as the largest U.S. mass tort ever. More than 250,000 veterans and military personnel allege they suffered hearing loss while using the Combat Arms CAEv2 earplugs. The plaintiffs say 3M knew the earplugs were defective and failed to properly warn them of alleged flaws.
“This is … the second jury in a row that found beyond a reasonable doubt that 3M’s conduct was reprehensible and deserving of severe punishment,” Bryan Aylstock, lead plaintiffs’ attorney, said in a prepared statement. “We will ensure that 3M is held fully accountable for putting profits over the safety of those who served our nation.” 3M stopped selling the earplugs in 2015 but has maintained the product was safe and effective.
To date, monetary judgments in the previous four cases 3M lost total about $30 million. The Tallahassee jury on Friday awarded Finley $7.5 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages, for a total of $22.5 million. In 2008, 3M bought Aearo Technologies, making it a large player in the military earplug market and soon after claims began to emerge regarding design defects. The Army’s report concluded that had the government known about testing run by Aearo in 2000, it might not have purchased Aearo earplugs. 3M paid a $9.1 million penalty to settle the whistleblower lawsuit, has denied all claims and has not admitted liability.
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