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Pair of 3M Military Earplug Test Trials Split on Liability (1)

Nov. 15, 2021, 6:03 PMUpdated: Nov. 15, 2021, 8:43 PM

3M Co. and its Aearo Technologies LLC subsidiary have received split federal jury verdicts in Florida on two service members’ claims that combat earplugs failed to protect their hearing, with the successful soldier obtaining an award of more than $12 million in punitive damages Monday.

A jury determined that active-duty U.S. Army Sergeant Guillermo Camarillorazo is owed $816,395 in compensatory damages and $12.2 million in punitive damages, according to his attorneys.

The two latest trials are the first to proceed under jurists other than Judge M. Casey Rodgers, who oversees the massive consolidated litigation over Aearo Combat Arms version 2 earplugs in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Joseph Palanki of Tennessee, who served in the U.S. Army and Army National Guard until 2020, failed to prove his hearing-loss and tinnitus claims, the jury determined Nov. 12.

The result in Palanki’s case “is an important demonstration that jurors agree 3M’s CAEv2 product was safe and effective to use,” 3M said in an emailed statement just after that verdict. “This result, along with previous outcomes, supports our position in this and future litigation on this matter.”

The company’s loss in Camarillorazo’s case, “while disappointing, follows two consecutive defense verdicts for 3M, and we remain confident in our case,” 3M said Monday in a separate statement.

“Juries differ, and each case must be tried on its individual facts. We disagree with the damages awarded,” the company said. “At all times 3M’s conduct with respect to the CAEv2 product was consistent with the company’s values and longtime commitment to keeping our U.S. military safe.”

3M said it intends to appeal the Camarillorazo award. And it said that case was selected for trial by the plaintiffs, whereas other bellwethers are chosen by the defendants and the court.

Palanki is the eighth service member to obtain a jury verdict. Camarillorazo, who went by Camarillo during trial, is the ninth.

Four individual trials and a consolidated trial of three veterans’ claims preceded these. They resulted in plaintiffs’ verdicts for five service members totaling nearly $17 million, while 3M’s defense succeeded in two of the trials.

“3M remains confident that our arguments are breaking through with juries, and we look forward to continuing to defend our product in all upcoming trials,” the company said after the Palanki verdict.

Lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the multidistrict litigation said that Palanki “bravely stood up to 3M after they put profits over his safety and tens of thousands of others who served our nation.”

And “Sergeant Guillermo Camarillo is now the sixth servicemember who has successfully held 3M accountable,” Bryan Aylstock of Aylstock Witkin Kreis & Overholtz PLLC, Shelley Hutson of Clark, Love & Hutson GP, and Christopher Seeger of Seeger Weiss LLP said Monday after the verdict.

“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,” they said. “A majority of juries have rejected 3M’s defenses, and in this case found beyond a reasonable doubt that the company engaged in intentional, punitive conduct.”

Judge Liles C. Burke of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama presided over the Palanki trial, which took place in Pensacola, Fla. Judge Mark E. Walker of the Northern District of Florida oversaw Camarillorazo’s trial in Tallahassee, Fla.

Palanki was represented by Levin Papantonio Rafferty; Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP; Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner; and the Aylstock and Clark firms.

Camarillo was represented by the Aylstock and Clark firms and five others.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP; Moore, Hill & Westmoreland PA; and Dechert LLP represented the defendants in both cases.

The cases are Palanki v. 3M Co., N.D. Fla., No. 3:19-cv-02324, verdict 11/12/21 and Camarillorazo v. 3M Co., N.D. Fla., No. 7:20-cv-00098, verdict 11/15/21.

(Updated throughout to reflect jury verdict in second case, with comment from both sides.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Martina Barash in Washington at mbarash@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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