Did you serve in the US military between 2003 and 2015? If so, the military might have issued you 3M-manufactured combat earplugs to protect your hearing during live fire exercises.
As it turns out, these earplugs were defective. If you have since suffered hearing loss, you might have a product liability claim that could entitle you to a significant amount of money.
3M is the manufacturer of the combat earplugs used by the US military between 2003 and 2015. 3M is a Minnesota company. Under the right circumstances, it can bear liability for personal injury caused by the earplugs it manufactured under the Minnesota Product Liability Act.
How Product Liability Lawsuits Work
You can win a product liability claim based on negligence or strict liability. Strict liability is preferable because you don’t have to prove that the defendant was at fault to win. To win a strict liability product liability claim, you must prove the following legal elements of your claim:
- The 3M earplugs were defective and unreasonably dangerous when they left the 3M’s possession. In this particular case, the culprit is probably a design defect, not a manufacturing defect.
- You (or the person you are representing in a wrongful death case) suffered injury, death, or property damage.
- The product defect was the cause of the loss you suffered. This means your losses would not have occurred but for the defect. It also means that a reasonable person, knowing of the defect, would have been able to foresee your losses.
- You did not suffer your injuries by using the product in a manner that the manufacturer did not intend (for example, by eating the earplugs).
You must prove each of these elements on a “preponderance of the evidence” (more likely than not) basis.
US law, including Minnesota law, recognizes three types of damages in personal injury cases: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.
Economic damages are easy-to-count damages that include medical bills, lost earnings, and out-of-pocket expenses. They can also include diminished earning capacity if your hearing loss affects your future employment prospects.
Loss of hearing probably qualifies as a form of non-economic damages. Imagine not being able to listen to music anymore or not being able to hear your spouse whisper, “I love you.” Such an intangible loss might not produce physical pain, but it is very real nonetheless.
Punitive damages are extra damages (in addition to economic damages and non-economic damages) that a court might use to sanction a defendant whose conduct was particularly outrageous.
Although courts rarely award punitive damages, 3M has already paid punitive damages in this case. This precedent renders it reasonably likely that a court might again assess punitive damages against them. Nevertheless, there is a limit on how much 3M can afford to pay.
Why You Can’t Sue the US Government in a 3M Earplug Lawsuit
The ancient legal principle of sovereign immunity generally prevents you from suing the government for money damages. The reason for this is that when you sue the government, you are really suing John Q. Taxpayer (including yourself if you pay taxes in the jurisdiction).
The Federal Tort Claims Act, however, waives sovereign immunity for most personal injury claims, including most product liability claims. Unfortunately, there is an exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act that prevents you from suing the US military. That doesn’t mean you can’t sue 3M, however.
Legal Action Against 3M So Far
So far, 3M has paid $9.1 million in fines to the federal government, although for legal reasons, they did not admit liability. 3M has been the subject of hundreds of thousands of claims against them.
In September 2023, 3M agreed to a $6 billion settlement for its liability. Claimants can choose whether or not to join the settlement or to continue seeking compensation on their own. It is still possible to join the litigation.
Multidistrict Litigation (MDL)
Large lawsuits with hundreds of thousands of claimants can get complex. In the interests of efficiency, however, it is possible to consolidate certain factual claims against these lawsuits into a more centralized multidistrict litigation MDL) format.
This is what happened in the 3M case. The federal government has centralized litigation in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Multidistrict litigation A single court determines common issues, such as the issue of 3M’s liability, while you can still litigate individual issues, such as the exact amount of your compensation, on your own.
The Government Contractor Defense
A government contractor can normally defeat a product liability claim by proving that they were a government contractor (as 3M was) and that they manufactured the product in accordance with government-supplied specifications.
This defense probably won’t work for 3M, however, since they have already tried it unsuccessfully earlier in this case.
Why It’s Important To Act Quickly Regarding Your 3M Defective Combat Earplug Lawsuit
It’s important to act quickly on your claim. At last count, there were over 242,000 defective combat earplug claims still pending against 3M in the MDL action. Even if you are number 242,001, you will be at the back of a very long line to receive compensation.
Will 3M run out of money before it gets to you? The sooner you press your claim, the less likely it is that this will happen.
Contact the Minnesota Product Liability Law Firm of Hall Law Personal Injury Attorneys For Help Today
For more information, please contact an experienced product liability lawyer at Hall Law Personal Injury Attorneys to schedule a free initial consultation today. We have three convenient locations in Minnesota, including Minneapolis, St. Cloud, and Edina.