One Vet Wins Big, Another Loses in 3M Military Earplugs Lawsuits

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Paratroopers react after detonating a brazier charge.
Paratroopers assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade pull an M81 igniter to detonate a brazier charge during Exercise Rock Spring 19 at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, March 6, 2019. (Sgt. Henry Villarama/173rd Airborne Brigade)

A federal jury awarded an Army soldier from Texas $13 million on Monday for hearing damage he alleges was caused by ineffective, faulty earplugs made by 3M.

Just days earlier, however, a different jury in another Florida courtroom ruled in favor of manufacturer 3M, rejecting similar arguments made by a former Army and Army National Guard soldier who said his hearing loss was caused by 3M's dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs version 2.

In these and several other cases that have been bundled together as lawsuits involving more than 250,000 troops, veterans and civilians, the plaintiffs have won in four cases, while 3M has prevailed in three.

Nine more decisions are expected in the coming months.

The trials are designated as bellwether cases, selected by attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants because they represent the same legal issues that would surface in other future legal proceedings.

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In the first case, decided in April, a U.S. District Court jury in Pensacola, Florida, awarded $7.1 million to three service members from Kentucky and Georgia.

For the most recent case, held in Tallahassee, the jury awarded $800,000 in compensatory damages and $12.25 million in punitive damages to former Army Sgt. Guillermo Camarillorazo, the largest for a single plaintiff.

In a statement released by Camarillorazo's legal team, attorneys Bryan Aylstock, Shelley Hutson and Christopher Seeger said the case "found beyond a reasonable doubt that the company engaged in intentional punitive conduct."

"Sergeant Guillermo [Camarillorazo] is now the sixth service member who has successfully held 3M accountable for putting profits over the safety of those who served our nation," they said. "We are humbled by their bravery and courage, and their advocacy on behalf of all the veterans who now face preventable hearing loss and tinnitus as a result of 3M's defective CAEv2 earplugs."

In the case resolved Friday in Pensacola, attorneys for Joseph Palanki argued that the soldier used the 3M dual-ended earplugs throughout his service, but the design was flawed, allowing for noise through the plugs themselves, in addition to issues with poor fitting.

The jury was not swayed.

3M maintains that the earplugs, which were issued between 2003 and 2015 to U.S. service members, were safe and effective. 

They were the first designed to protect users from loud sounds while allowing them to hear speech and other softer sounds with minimal disruption.

"Noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus have been widely acknowledged for decades as common injury risks in combat and off-duty situations," the company noted in a statement on its website. "According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, today these conditions are by far the most prevalent service-connected injuries. ... As we will continue to demonstrate, the CAEv2 product was effective and safe to use."

In the other cases that have already gone to trial, plaintiffs and 3M have alternated victories, with awards reaching up to $8.2 million.

The cases comprise the largest multidistrict litigation ever in the U.S.; U.S. District Court Judge M. Casey Rodgers, in the Northern District of Florida, is presiding over the consolidated cases and heard the first five bellwether trials.

Camarillorazo's case was held before Northern District of Florida Chief Judge Mark Walker, while Palanki's case was heard by Northern District of Alabama Judge Liles Burke.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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