A group of 13 veterans has recently filed a motion to have their hearing damage lawsuits proceed against 3M and its subsidiary, Aearo Technologies, over allegedly-defective earplugs — Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2) — despite an appeals court ruling in October that issued a stay on CAEv2 lawsuits. 

After losing 10 of the 16 CAEv2 bellwether trials, which returned $300 million in plaintiff verdicts, 3M placed its CAEv2 legal liabilities with Aearo Technologies, the original manufacturer of CAEv2. Aearo, which 3M acquired in 2008, subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection. An appeals court is currently deciding whether 3M can be held responsible for the alleged defectively-designed earplugs independent of its subunit bankruptcy protection. 

The plaintiffs who filed the motion assert that their lawsuits should be able to move forward because they received the military-issued earplugs after 3M’s acquisition of Aearo was completed, thus the claims are not directed against Aearo but rather the parent company. Attorneys for the plaintiffs also argued that 3M expanded its sales of CAEv2 to the U.S. military after purchasing Aearo. 

More than 230,000 plaintiffs, mostly U.S. military veterans, claim that 3M knowingly supplied the government with faulty hearing-protection devices that became imperceptibly loose during training operations or on the battlefield in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. This alleged design flaw, plaintiffs maintain, led to them developing hearing loss and/or tinnitus. 

U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers, who is overseeing consolidated federal CAEv2 cases in multidistrict litigation (MDL), ordered the parties to pursue settlement negotiations prior to 3M’s decision to shift its CAEv2 legal liabilities to Aearo and have its subunit file for bankruptcy protection. 

While the appeals court decides on whether lawsuits against 3M can proceed despite the subunit bankruptcy, Judge Rodgers has paused deadlines in four waves of CAEv2 trials that would be remanded back to U.S. District Courts around the country if a settlement is not reached between the parties.