Federal Judge Green-Lights Defective 3M Earplug Lawsuit

by | Aug 10, 2020 | Products Liability

U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers brushed aside the so-called government contractor defense, so it looks like these victims might have their day in court.

In striking the defense, the judge ruled that 3M designed the defective earplugs with basically no input from the government as to design specifics. In response, a company spokesperson said officials were “reviewing our options” with regard to the suit. “We remain confident the evidence will show that the CAEv2 product, which was developed in response to the U.S. military’s request and based on its own specifications and testing, was not defective and did not cause injuries,” the statement added.

Hundreds of these lawsuits are now pending in various parts of the country.

3M Earplugs

Hearing loss is one of the most common service-related disabilities. Some of these injuries occur during training, when dozens or hundreds of soldiers are simultaneously on the firing line. Combat-related hearing loss, perhaps due to gunfire or an exploding IED, are quite common as well. Other times, victims are exposed to loud noises during their service that are not directly related to their official duties.

3M’s earplugs were supposed to protect these individuals from injuries. But the earplugs did not form a tight seal over the eardrum. As a result, loud noises seeped past the earplug and affected the ear. Whether the victim was exposed to somewhat loud noises over time or a one time extremely loud noise, the results are much the same.

Today’s hearing aids are quite effective and unobtrusive. However, if a victim is 35 or 40 years old, thirty, forty, or fifty years is an awful long time to wear a hearing aid. Furthermore, even the most advanced hearing aid only amplifies certain sounds and blocks other ones. If the ear muscle is damaged, doctors must perform highly invasive surgery to repair the damage. And, this surgery is quite risky.

Product Defect Claims

Manufacturers like 3M are strictly liable for defective product damages. Victims need not prove negligence or fault, at least in the liability portion of a trial. This strict standard is necessary because a simple negligence standard would not be sufficient to protect individuals from the greedy acts of huge companies. Generally, there are three kinds of product defects:

  • Manufacturing: Takata airbags are a good example of a manufacturing defect. For many years, Takata used a stable and reliable chemical propellant. Then, around 2000, the company switched to ammonium nitrate, largely to save money. That’s the same chemical which was in the recent Beirut cargo ship explosion. Because the company used cheap materials, people died.
  • Marketing: Opioid painkillers, which regulators approved as safe, were deceptively marketed. Purdue Pharma and other companies targeted people who were likely to become addicts, in order to boost their sales and profits.
  • Design: 3M’s earplugs had a design flaw. They never should have been sold. In situations like these, the company usually knows about the problem but does not address it, so as to not depress sales or adversely affect the company’s reputation.

3M apparently knew about the defect for several years, yet it continued to sell these plugs to the DoD. Misconduct like that usually prompts jurors to award additional punitive damages. These damages punish the negligent actor and deter future wrongdoing. Typically, money is the only language big companies speak. If the financial penalty is not high enough, the company will write off the verdict as the cost of doing business.

Manufacturer Defenses

The government contractor defense was probably the most effective defense available to 3M’s lawyers. This defense essentially shifts blame for the injuries from the company to the government. Since the government approved the design, the government is responsible for any injuries. But 3M failed to produce sufficient evidence to support this argument.

Lack of evidence is often an effective defense as well. Many times, the victim cannot establish a link between the defective product and the injuries sustained. To make this connection, a Lexington personal injury lawyer typically partners with expert witnesses.

Finally, there’s the product misuse defense. Companies often use this defense if the victim did not follow all product directions. These victims are responsible for their own injuries. But the product misuse must be off the charts, such as putting the earplug in the microwave to melt it slightly before putting it in one’s ear.

If a defective 3M earplug let you down, you might be entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We handle defective product claims on a nationwide basis.