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3M to Face Hundreds of Veteran Hearing Loss Suits in Florida (1)

April 4, 2019, 2:45 PMUpdated: April 4, 2019, 8:54 PM

Suits linking alleged defects in 3M Co.‘s combat earplugs led to hearing loss in hundreds of members of the U.S. military will be consolidated in federal court in Florida, a federal panel of judges decided April 3.

The rapidly swelling mass tort litigation now consists of 643 related federal cases, according to the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.

3M and numerous plaintiffs sought centralization in federal court in Minnesota, where 3M is based. But the panel chose the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida instead, where Judge M. Casey Rodgers will oversee the multidistrict litigation.

Most of the suits are by individual service members allege tinnitus or hearing loss. They say that dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 didn’t adequately protect their hearing while in combat or weapons training.

But several suits are on behalf of would-be classes, the panel said. Whether to create a separate track for these proposed class actions is up to the MDL judge, the panel said.

“Judge Rodgers is a great choice,” said attorney D. Todd Mathews of Gori Julian & Associates PC, who represents some of the plaintiffs. Rodgers is a former member of the military, he said, though her service predates the use of the earplugs at issue.

3M, meanwhile, said it looks forward to presenting its case before Rodgers. “3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world and their safety is a priority,” company spokeswoman Fanna Haile-Selassie said in a statement.

The company has a long history of providing products to the U.S. military and continues to do so, she said.

One or more judges on the seven-judge MDL panel could have been members of a Combat Arms class, according to the opinion. Those judges participated in the decision but renounced any participation in the classes, the panel said.

Common issues include “the design, testing, sale, and marketing of the Combat Arms earplugs,” the panel said.

Paul LLP and Schwebel Goetz & Sieben PA, Robinson Calcagnie Inc., and others represented the plaintiffs.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP represented 3M.

The case is In re 3M Combat Arms Earplug Prods. Liab. Litig., 2019 BL 117986, J.P.M.L., 2885, 4/3/19.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com