Two Army Vets Awarded $110 Million in 3M Earplug Lawsuit

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U.S. Army soldiers cover their ears during artillery qualification
U.S. Army soldiers cover their ears during an artillery qualification at Besamaya Range in FOB Hammer, Iraq, May 6, 2011. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Nathan Franco)

Two Army veterans won a combined $110 million in the latest decision from a series of lawsuits alleging 3M sold the military faulty earplugs that caused hearing loss.

On Thursday, a federal jury in Pensacola, Florida, awarded William Wayman and Ronald Sloan each $15 million in compensatory damages and $40 million in punitive damages. The verdict represents the largest single payout since the series of trials began last year.

"Juries continue to find that 3M's earplugs were defective and that they are responsible for causing irreparable hearing damage to those who served our country," Wayman and Sloan's legal team said in an emailed joint statement. "There is now a sustained track record of juries rejecting 3M's defenses and returning awards of millions of dollars per plaintiff -- underscoring the severity of these injuries and the deplorable nature of 3M's misconduct."

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Sloan, who was in the Army for 21 years, and Wayman, who served for 20 years, both say they wore the earplugs in Iraq and Afghanistan and have since been diagnosed with tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. Wayman's hearing issues also exacerbate his post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as causing memory, focus and sleep issues, his attorneys say.

The two veterans were represented by Bryan Aylstock of Aylstock Witkin Kreis & Overholtz, PLLC; Shelley Hutson of Clark, Love & Hutson GP; and Christopher Seeger of Seeger Weiss LLP.

In its own press release, 3M said it plans to appeal the decision and argued that having two plaintiffs in one trial "can cause confusion and ultimately affect the outcome."

"3M's defense is rooted in the fact that the CAEv2 was effective and safe to use, and our conduct was consistent with the company's values and our longtime commitment to keeping our U.S. military safe," the company said. The multinational noted that it had won the previous two verdicts in lawsuits related to the earplugs.

"We will continue to vigorously defend ourselves throughout this litigation," 3M added.

Lawsuits involving nearly 300,000 service members and others have been filed against 3M over its combat arms version 2 dual-sided earplug, which were used by the U.S. military from 2003 to 2015. The lawsuits allege 3M concealed design flaws and cooked test results, while the company maintains the earplugs met expectations in repeated tests by the military and that hearing loss can happen in combat even with "robust" protection.

The lawsuits have been connected through what's known as multidistrict litigation, in which multiple federal lawsuits that have facts in common are handled by one court. It's become the largest federal mass tort litigation in U.S. history.

Juries have heard 11 so-called bellwether trials out of the thousands of lawsuits against 3M. A bellwether trial is when a small number of cases are chosen to be heard from a larger pool to get a sense of how they will play out, often for the purposes of determining settlements.

So far, 3M has won five of the bellwether cases, while plaintiffs have won six for a combined total of $160 million in damages.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at rebecca.kheel@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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

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