If you served in the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015 and now suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus, you may be entitled to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for medical bills, loss of income, disability-related expenses, and emotional pain.
Allegedly, defense contractor 3M knew that their earplug design was too shallow and could loosen in the “fully closed” position, allowing harmful sounds into the ear canal. According to a whistleblower lawsuit, 3M hid knowledge of the design defect in order to secure the government contract.
Veterans have said their tinnitus is like having 10,000 cicadas buzzing in their head constantly or that the ringing is so constant there is no peace. While there are VA benefits available and some of the $9.1 million paid out so far will directly benefit hearing-impaired veterans, Rutter Mills is currently assisting military veterans looking to obtain their own individual settlements to account for the unnecessary pain and suffering they’ve endured as a result of 3M’s negligence.
Whistleblower Lawsuit Settlement
In July 2018, a judge ruled that 3M Company was guilty of knowingly selling defective combat arms earplugs. The U.S. government alleged that 3M and its predecessor, Aero Technologies Inc., knew that the earplugs were too short for proper insertion into the ear canal and did not perform optimal noise cancellation for certain individuals. However, they did not disclose this design defect when the military contract was finalized.
Special Agent Robert Craig Jr. explained: “This settlement demonstrates the commitment of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and our law enforcement partners to hold companies accountable for supplying substandard products, in particular products that could directly impact our service members’ health and welfare. DCIS protects the integrity of Defense Department programs by rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse that negatively affect the well-being of our troops.”
The misconduct was first initiated in May 2016 by Moldex-Metrics, a direct competitor who also sells earplugs. The two companies had been suing each other over patents and antitrust violations since 2012. As the whistleblower, Moldex-Metric will receive a $1.9 million reward, plus $645,000 in legal fees. A spokesperson for 3M called the lawsuit “a distraction to the business,” and provided no admission of liability.
Will There Be A 3M Earplug Class Action Settlement?
Since hearing loss affects some 800,000 military veterans, many people assume a class action lawsuit will follow. Some attorneys around the country have sought class action status for the pending litigation. The benefit of a class action filing is that many veterans would be entitled to the same lump sum payment for their complaints. For a relatively low amount of money, injury victims can gain access to highly experienced attorneys. Most plaintiffs do not have to attend court hearings in order to receive compensation as part of the group.
While class action lawsuits are expedient, taking up fewer judges and court slots, they also tend to undervalue the damage done in more serious cases. Class actions may be fine for a product liability lawsuit where the window of harm has come and gone, or for minor injuries, but for more substantial injuries with multiple surgeries or long-lasting implications, a mass tort could provide fairer settlements.
3M Earplug Mass Tort Settlements
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against 3M. Many of the lawsuits are filed in the U.S. District Court of Minneapolis, where 3M is from, but they’re pouring in from around the country – Texas, California, Oklahoma, Georgia, and more. Others feel Texas might be a good location for central proceedings, since it’s in the middle of the country. Missouri and Louisiana are other locations floated. Attorneys believe there may be over 100,000 lawsuits, all told.
The next possible step could be the formation of Multi-District Litigation (MDL). If the pending request to form 3M Company Combat Arms Earplug MDL 2885 Product Liability Litigation is granted, one case would be selected as a bellwether trial to streamline early discovery procedures and explore the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments against 3M. Following the outcome of the trial, basic protocols to handle the remaining lawsuits will be decided. Typically, each case is settled or heard individually in court based on their own merits, though the early trials serve a powerful precedent.
Will Suing 3M Affect My VA Benefits?
The U.S. Department of Veterans spends over $1 billion on hearing loss claims currently. Individuals with tinnitus and a disability rating of 10 percent can receive approximately $140 per month from the VA. Benefits can range from $400 (30% disability) to $3,000 a month (100% disability), depending on the severity of the injuries. Veterans can also opt to sue 3M to receive further compensation for the emotional pain and suffering they’ve faced. The settlement or award money veterans receive will in no way impact their VA benefits. Seeking legal representation also costs nothing upfront, so there is everything to gain and nothing to lose by calling Rutter Mills.