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3M ordered to pay $110 million to 2 Army vets in latest earplug suit

3M headquarters in Maplewood, Minnesota. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune/TNS)

A Florida jury handed down a $110 million verdict against 3M in the latest trial over the company’s allegedly defective earplugs — a sum twice the size as all other related earplug verdicts combined.

The case was the latest in a series of bellwether trials that are meant to shape potential settlements for large-scale litigation on the issue. Claims have been filed by more than 250,000 veterans and military personnel alleging they suffered hearing loss while wearing a certain type of Combat Arms earplugs.

3M, which stopped selling Combat Arms CAEv2 earplugs in 2015, has maintained the product was effective and that “in some situations, such as combat scenarios, it is undisputed that even robust protection cannot prevent some hearing loss.”

Ronald Sloan and William Wayman, both Army veterans, late Thursday were awarded compensatory and punitive damages after convincing the jury the Maplewood-based company was to blame for their hearing loss.

“A jury of eight people held 3M liable for its conduct and awarded each soldier $55 million for a combined judgment of $110 million, much of which was to punish the company for its conduct and concealing its knowledge of a defective earplug for 15 years,” said attorney Michael Sacchet of Ciresi Conlin LLP, the firm representing both soldiers in a consolidated trial.

The company said in a statement Friday it will appeal the verdict.

“While we are disappointed with the verdicts, the overall mixed record in the bellwether process thus far shows that plaintiffs face significant challenges in this litigation and each case must be considered on its own facts and circumstances,” 3M said. “We will continue to defend ourselves vigorously throughout this litigation.”

Plaintiffs have won six cases against 3M to date with $160 million awarded, while the company has received five favorable verdicts.

Another five trials are scheduled this year.

When the bellwether trials are over, thousands of cases could begin proceeding.

“These verdicts only strengthen our resolve to try these cases in front of juries nationwide to hold 3M fully accountable for putting profits over the safety of those who served our nation,” attorneys for Sloan and Wayman said in a statement.

The company contends its “commitment to keeping our military safe has been misconstrued by plaintiffs and their lawyers who have financial stakes in this litigation.”

3M became a major player in the military earplug market in 2008 when it bought Aearo Technologies. Ten years later, the company settled a government whistleblower suit over the earplugs, which opened the door to a flood of claims now pending around the country.

3M stock fell more than 4% on Friday, ending the day at $163.12, its lowest closing price in the last 52 weeks. Chief executive Mike Roman told anxious investors earlier this week: “We believe our product was safe and effective in its use, and we’re vigorously defending ourselves.”


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