The U.S. District Judge presiding over all 3M earplug lawsuits has ordered the parties to participate in a multi-day mediation to discuss settling the litigation, after a bankruptcy judge cleared the way for cases to proceed against 3M Company, despite its Aearo Technologies subsidiary's recent bankruptcy filing.
Nearly 250,000 claims have been filed against 3M Company and its Aearo Technologies branch by US military veterans, each alleging that its Combat Arms earplugs were defectively built and did not offer proper ear protection. Despite being aware of the issues, lawsuits say that 3M continued to sell the earplugs to the United States military, which issued them as standard issue equipment to all service members between 2004 and 2015.
Over the last year, 3M Company has been forced to pay millions of dollars in damages in a series of early trial dates conducted to assist the parties judge how jurors would respond to particular facts and testimony that will be repeated throughout the case. However, with an increasing number of new claims being filed by former military members, estimates predict that 3M Company may be responsible for tens of billions of dollars in damages if each individual case is heard by a jury.
Claims filed throughout the federal court system have been centralised as part of a multi-district lawsuit (MDL) before a U.S. District Judge in the Northern District of Florida, who has been presiding over coordinated discovery and preparing several big "waves" of claims for trial next year.
Prior to "flooding" U.S. District Courts around the country with individual cases that need a jury trial, the jury scheduled a series of 3M earplug settlement meetings this summer, directing the parties to engage in a serious and good faith attempt to resolve the claims. Those efforts, however, were derailed a few days later when 3M's Aearo Technologies business declared bankruptcy.