Federal Judge Denies 3M’s Attempt to Resolve Earplug Hearing Loss Lawsuits in Bankruptcy

In the latest courtroom news involving military earplug manufacturer 3M Company and its Aearo Technologies subsidiary, a U.S. Bankruptcy judge has rejected the company’s attempt to use the bankruptcy process to resolve nearly 260,000 lawsuits alleging that its Combat Arms Earplugs caused hearing loss, tinnitus, and other debilitating hearing problems in veterans and U.S. service members. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey Graham dismissed Aearo Technologies’ bankruptcy filing, stating that the company enjoys a “greater degree of financial security than warrants bankruptcy protection.” If you or someone you love served in the U.S. military between 2003 and 2015 and suffered hearing damage allegedly caused by defective 3M military earplugs, fill out the form or call our consumer advocates right away to learn how we can help.

Hearing Loss, Tinnitus Linked to 3M Combat Earplugs

The biggest legal battle facing 3M Company today is being waged by thousands of veterans and U.S. service members who claim that they suffered permanent hearing damage from defective earplugs the company negligently sold to the U.S. military. The earplugs were designed for military use and were standard issue for all branches of the U.S. military for more than a decade. According to complaints, the earplugs, used by thousands of servicemen and women between 2003 and 2015, were too short to be properly inserted into the ear, which left users without adequate hearing protection during military training exercises and active combat. A growing number of claims allege that 3M knowingly sold the defective earplugs to the military without disclosing defects in the earplug design that rendered the earplugs less effective than expected. 

The earplugs in question are Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2) – dual-ended military earplugs designed to be inserted in the ear one way to block out all sounds or the other way to allow users to hear battlefield commands while protecting them against damaging noises like weapons fire and explosions. The earplugs were originally manufactured by Aearo Technologies, which 3M acquired in 2008. 3M stopped making the earplugs in 2015, amid claims that they were defective and failed to provide users with adequate hearing protection, yet the earplugs were never recalled. Revelations about these alleged design defects led thousands of veterans and U.S. service members to pursue legal claims against 3M Company for hearing loss, tinnitus, and other debilitating hearing problems allegedly caused by the flawed earplugs. So far, 3M has lost 10 out of 16 earplug hearing loss lawsuits that have gone to trial, resulting in about $265 million in damages being awarded to plaintiffs.

3M Earplug Hearing Loss MDL Largest Mass Tort in History

The lawsuits against 3M Company and Aearo Technologies have been consolidated in federal court in Pensacola, Florida, for coordinated pretrial proceedings as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL). There have been more than 330,000 earplug hearing loss cases filed against 3M and as of June 2023, there are nearly 255,000 pending lawsuits, making it the largest mass tort in U.S. history. In filing for bankruptcy, 3M and its Aearo subsidiary claimed that the defective earplug complaints had ballooned out of control, threatening the company’s ability to resolve them. However, Judge Graham ruled last month that the legal claims against 3M and Aearo did not pose any “impending” risk of insolvency and that there was no evidence that the company could not reach a settlement outside of the bankruptcy process. 

Bankruptcy Court Rejects J&J’s Chapter 11 Filing

More and more often, major corporations like 3M are attempting to use bankruptcy courts to block lawsuits and avoid liability for their allegedly defective products and the injuries they cause. Johnson & Johnson used a similar maneuver, called the “Texas two-step,” to try and divert into bankruptcy court tens of thousands of lawsuits alleging that the company’s talc-based powder products contained asbestos and caused cancer. In 2021, J&J created a brand-new subsidiary called LTL Management to absorb the talc liabilities and then had the subsidiary immediately file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Johnson & Johnson’s bankruptcy filing was rejected by the court in January 2023, and the subsidiary filed again within hours of the court’s ruling. 

Find Out How We Can Help

Hearing loss and tinnitus are two of the most common service-related disabilities among military veterans. While these hearing problems affect more than 30 million Americans, military personnel are disproportionately at risk due to exposure to harmful noises on the battlefield and during training exercises. According to the Veterans Benefits Administration’s 2020 Annual Benefits Report, more than 1.3 million veterans were receiving disability compensation for hearing loss and more than 2.3 million were receiving compensation for tinnitus at the end of fiscal year 2020. If you or a loved one is suffering from tinnitus, hearing loss, deafness, or another type of hearing damage you believe to be related to the use of defective 3M combat earplugs, do not hesitate to seek legal help. You may have grounds to file an earplug hearing loss lawsuit against 3M Company, in order to pursue financial compensation for your injuries. 

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