Judge says 3M can’t escape liability in earplug lawsuits

Lance Cpl. Joshua Crumback

A federal judge recently told 3M that it may not use “bad faith manipulation” to avoid its responsibility in a slew of cases against the multinational conglomerate for its allegedly defective earplugs.

In a sharply worded order issued on Dec. 22, U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, the Pensacola, Florida-based judge where the nearly 250,000 lawsuits against 3M are being overseen, said the company deserved the “harshest penalty” for its effort to shift liability for hearing damage suffered by veterans to a subsidiary.

“3M purposely engaged in a nearly four-year campaign to establish itself as the sole responsible party for [earplug] claims, then abruptly reversed course when that narrative no longer suited its strategic objectives,” Rodgers wrote.

According to the judge’s order, 3M’s recent move came after it already awarded nearly $300,000,000 to 13 plaintiffs over the course of 16 “bellwether trials.”

The lead lawyers for the plaintiffs, Bryan Aylstock and Chris Seeger, in a joint statement welcomed the ruling, Reuters reported.

“We applaud Judge Rodger[s’] order, which shuts the door on 3M’s duplicitous, bad faith attempt to shift blame...in service of its contrived bankruptcy maneuver,” they said.

In August, an attempt by 3M to have one of its subsidiaries, Aearo Technologies LLC, declare bankruptcy was denied by an Indiana bankruptcy judge, Military Times previously reported. This meant the company would not be allowed to halt litigation against it and let Aearo Tech take the fall for one of the largest multidistrict litigations in U.S. history.

Bankruptcy denied in 3M earplug lawsuit, legal battle continues

“We disagree with this incomplete and inaccurate depiction of our good faith efforts in this litigation,” 3M said in a statement, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

The legal fight against 3M began back in 2018. It follows that the Minnesota-based government contractor knowingly sold the military defective combat earplugs — the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 — that did not maintain a tight enough seal, which caused all types of hearing damage to service members.

Separately, the most recent move by the judge comes just days after the company announced in a statement that it would stop making per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — the toxic “forever chemicals” commonly known as PFAS which the military is likewise in a battle to manage — by the end of 2025.

“While PFAS can be safely made and used, we also see an opportunity to lead in a rapidly evolving external regulatory and business landscape to make the greatest impact for those we serve,” 3M CEO Mike Roman said in the statement.