In April of 2019, the 3M Dual Sided Combat Earplugs multidistrict litigation (“MDL”) was created and assigned to Judge M. Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida. The MDL includes lawsuits against 3M alleging that the plaintiff suffered hearing loss and/or tinnitus as a result of the use of the defective 3M dual-sided earplugs that 3M exclusively supplied to the military between 2003 and 2015. After its formation, Judge Rodgers appointed a plaintiff steering committee, which is a group of attorneys designated to organize and lead all of the attorneys throughout the country that are representing veterans in the litigation. This enables the attorneys to collectively work together, share resources and file cases against 3M in a uniform manner.
For the past year, the litigation has been in the discovery phase. Discovery is the process of obtaining the relevant documents and information related to building the case. Hundreds of thousands of documents related to the design, manufacturing, marketing, safety testing and sale of the 3M earplugs have been produced, and sworn testimony has been taken from many witnesses with knowledge of these issues.
The judge has prioritized the production of documents and depositions relating to 3M's government contractor immunity defense. This defense would provide 3M Company with immunity from being sued. Recently, the parties have filed motions for summary judgment on this defense. Summary judgment is a process by which both sides present their evidence and written legal argument on whether a defense should apply in a case. Judge Rodgers will soon rule on whether the government contractor defense applies to this case. If Judge Roger's rules the way 3M is requesting, all of the cases will be dismissed. If the judge rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the defense will be dismissed, and the litigation will continue.
Simultaneous with discovery, the judge has been developing and executing a bellwether selection process. The bellwether selection process is a process by which a small number of individual cases are chosen for trial. Bellwether trials are the initial trials that are used to get a sense of how juries will evaluate the evidence to assist both sides in moving the MDL towards resolution. As of December of 2019, there were 139,693 individuals that had filed claims. Out of those, 1% were randomly selected to be considered for a potential bellwether case. Next, the cases were analyzed to identify characteristics that were most representative of the whole population. The characteristics found in that analysis were then applied to the 1%, which narrowed the pool to 175 individuals. Of those, 20 cases plus five alternate cases were chosen to be the bellwether trials.
The court has laid out a timeline for general discovery to be completed by July of 2020. Thereafter, discovery in the bellwether trials will be completed, and the first bellwether trials are anticipated to begin in the spring of 2021.
If you or a loved one has suffered hearing loss or tinnitus as a result of using the 3M Dual-Sided Earplugs while serving in the United States Military, please contact our office at 212-566-1000 to speak to an attorney that can help you.