Jan 20, 2023

Court Declares 3M Earplug Lawsuit Settlement Efforts at an “Impasse,” Terminating Further Mediation

Posted by : Irvin Jackson

A federal judge says the manufacturer has given up on efforts to reach a global 3M earplug lawsuit settlement that would resolve all claims, making additional court-ordered mediation unnecessary.

Following months of mediation efforts to resolve thousands of 3M earplug lawsuits brought by military personnel left with hearing loss and tinnitus injuries, the U.S. District Judge presiding the litigation has declared settlement negotiations at an impasse and terminated further court-ordered talks.

More than 230,000 U.S. veterans are currently pursuing a product liability lawsuit against 3M and its Aearo Technologies subsidiary, each raising similar allegations that they were left with permanent hearing damage after receiving 3M Combat Arms Earplugs as standard issue military equipment before deployments between 2004 and 2015. Plaintiffs allege the earplugs were sold to the U.S. government with a known design defect, which left veterans without adequate ear protectors during combat and training exercises.

The earplugs were initially developed by Aearo Technologies, which was acquired by 3M Company in 2008, and the entire Aearo hearing protection business was upstreamed into 3M, which continued to market and sell the defective earplugs to the U.S. government without disclosing known problems that caused them to commonly fall out of the ear canal.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the litigation, all 3M earplug hearing loss lawsuits have been centralized for the past three and a half years before U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, as part of an MDL or multidistrict litigation.

Military service members between 2003 and 2015 may be eligible for a 3M earplug lawsuit payout over hearing damage or tinnitus. Find out if you may be eligible for a hearing loss settlement.

Following a series of early bellwether verdicts in the litigation, where different juries painted a very clear picture about the extent of liability the company faces by awarding millions in damages at trial, 3M Company failed to offer earplug settlements that any plaintiffs would accept as compensation for permanent hearing damage caused by their product.

Instead of making a good faith attempt to resolve the litigation, 3M made the controversial decision last year to place its Aearo Technologies subsidiary into bankruptcy and has attempted to force the litigation into the U.S. bankruptcy court, even though the multi-billion parent company sold and profited from the earplugs for years.

After several months of legal wrangling, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey J. Graham rejected a request by 3M to stay the litigation during the bankruptcy proceedings in August 2022, indicating that cases against 3M Company will continue while the bankruptcy of Aearo technologies moves forward.

At nearly every step, 3M Company’s defense strategies have failed to turn the tide in the litigation and actually led to sanctions against the company that prevents it from raising new, contradictory defenses.

Last month, the U.S. District Judge presiding over the federal civil litigation barred 3M Company from arguing that it was not independently responsible for the earplugs made by its Aearo subsidiary, suggesting that a recent shift in defense strategy was done in bad faith after nearly four years of failing to raise the argument, and the Court described the effort as a brazen abuse of the litigation process.

3M Earplug Lawsuit Settlement Negotiations

A series of 3M earplug settlement talks held in late September were previously described as worthwhile and productive, and the parties were ordered to continue to meet with a court-appointed mediator over the past few months to continue negotiations. However, reports suggest that 3M is more inclined to incur millions in legal defense costs than make good-faith offers to resolve claims.

In a court order (PDF) issued on January 18, Judge Rodgers declared that further mediation efforts appear to be useless at this stage of the litigation, indicating that the MDL, bankruptcy, and various appeals will proceed.

“3M has now advised the Court that it has no desire to reach a global resolution in the MDL and is absolutely determined to resolve all CAEv2 claims solely through the bankruptcy system,” Judge Rodgers wrote. “The MDL Plaintiffs Leadership, and also the CAEv2 Creditors Committee in the bankruptcy court, have advised the Court that they remain committed to an MDL settlement and categorically reject any bankruptcy-only resolution.”

As a result, Judge Rodgers has declared an impasse in the 3M earplug lawsuit settlement negotiations and has terminated mediation. Instead, the Court will focus on resolving remaining Daubert and summary judgment motions in a first wave of 500 cases being prepared for remand, so that the cases may be returned to their originating districts for trial after an appeals court rules on 3M’s interlocutory appeal of Judge Rodgers’ decision that it is independently liable, separate from its now bankrupt subsidiary.

February 2023 3M Earplug Lawsuit Update

While 3M Company is pursuing an interlocutory appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Judge Rodgers indicates that Special Master Randi Ellis can continue meeting informally with the parties as needed to determine if individual settlements can occur. However, there will be no further global mediation efforts.

“Hopefully as the MDL, the bankruptcy, and the various appeals proceed, all of which undoubtedly will take years to run their course, the intransigence on both sides will give way to a genuine commitment to negotiation reasonably and to meaningful compromises on both sides so that a just and mutually acceptable resolution of these matters may be achieved,” Judge Rodgers stated in the order. “Whether that resolution occurs in the MDL or in the bankruptcy system, this Court will support it and will remain available to assist where it makes sense.”

This week, Judge Rodgers also issued an order (PDF) setting a deadline of February 8, 2023, for a group of 552 plaintiffs to submit their final census forms. Otherwise, those cases will be dismissed with prejudice for failure to comply with long overdue deadlines.

If 3M Company fails to convince the appeals court to overturn Judge Rodgers’ prior ruling, it is expected to face a rapid pace of jury trials scheduled nationwide throughout 2024 and beyond. Prior estimates had suggested that the company would need to pay more than ten billion to settle the earplug lawsuits during early mediations. However, if the company loses on appeal, the settlement estimates are likely to increase dramatically.

Tags: 3M Company, Army, Bankruptcy, Combat Arms, Earplugs, Hearing Loss, Tinnitus, Veteran

The post Court Declares 3M Earplug Lawsuit Settlement Efforts at an “Impasse,” Terminating Further Mediation appeared first on AboutLawsuits.com.

Be Sociable, Share!
author avatar
Irvin Jackson