Approximately four months after declaring settlement talks dead in the water between 3M and tens of thousands of military veteran plaintiffs who allege that the company’s Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2) caused their hearing damage, the judge who is presiding over all CAEv2 lawsuits has ordered both parties to resume settlement talks in good faith.
Judge M. Casey Rodgers issued the order on May 1 while a federal circuit considers oral arguments relating to bellwether trials that returned plaintiff verdicts and $8 million in damages to four former U.S. Army members. Judge Rodgers has appointed two retired judges to work alongside a mediator Special Master.
Approximately 230,000 CAEv2 lawsuits are pending against 3M and Aearo Technologies, a subunit of 3M that originally manufactured the earplugs before 3M acquired it in 2008. CAEv2 was the only earplug available to service members from 2003 until 2015. Plaintiffs in the CAEv2 multidistrict litigation (MDL), the largest in U.S. history, allege that 3M knowingly supplied defective earplugs to the military.
Despite losing 10 of 16 bellwether trials and being ordered to pay $300 million in damages to 13 plaintiffs, 3M has been unable to reach a settlement offer with CAEv2 plaintiffs.
In July 2022, 3M placed its CAEv2 legal liabilities onto its Aearo Technologies subunit, which subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a move critics contend is an abuse of the bankruptcy system, considering that 3M has a market capitalization of over $56 billion.
In September 2022, a bankruptcy judge ruled that despite the stay on litigation granted to Aearo Technologies, 3M must independently face CAEv2 lawsuits. In addition to MDL in Florida, thousands of other CAEv2 lawsuits have been filed by other plaintiffs (government contractors, for example) in Minnesota, the headquarters of 3M.
3M has appealed the bankruptcy ruling and maintains that the bellwether plaintiff verdicts should be tossed because the company is shielded from liability as a government defense contractor. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will issue a ruling on the contractor defense strategy in the near future.