Iraq War vet wins $1.7M in fifth major case alleging 3M earplugs led to hearing loss

Man holding an earplug.
Photo credit Getty Images

A federal jury in Pensacola, Fla., announced a $1.7 million verdict in favor of Iraq War veteran Lloyd Baker in a lawsuit regarding 3M earplugs and their effectiveness -- or alleged lack thereof -- according to a June 21 press release from Seeger Weiss, LLP.

Baker is one of more than 230,000 military personnel who sued 3M, an American multinational corporation, in 3M Combat Arms Earplug Products Liability Litigation, a mass tort lawsuit. Seeger Weiss said the suit is the largest consolidated federal mass tort case in U.S. history.

The earplugs were allegedly ineffective at blocking the sound of weaponry and led to hearing loss among some veterans.

“A mass tort is some act or omission that harms or injures numerous people. Some examples of this kind of activity include explosions, commercial plane crashes, groundwater contamination due to toxic waste disposal, or noxious pollution emanating from industrial factories,” according to Cornell Law School.

Baker and other service members used the 3M Combat Arms version 2 earplugs, which were marketed for infantrymen, to protect their ears from weapon noises. By 2005 – before Baker finished training – he said he started to experience muffled hearing and ringing in his ears despite using the plugs.

After Baker served 16 months in Iraq, he was diagnosed with hearing loss in both ears and tinnitus.

Tinnitus can cause ringing and other noises in the ears as well as fatigue, stress, sleep problems, depression, anxiety headaches and more, according to the Mayo Clinic. Often tinnitus cannot be treated, but there are methods sufferers can use to reduce their symptoms, said the clinic.

3M and predecessor Aero Technologies manufactured the earplugs that Baker and other veterans used, said Seeger Weiss. The plugs were used by the U.S. Army from 1999 through 2015, when the company discontinued them.

David Buchanan of Seeger Weiss said that “3M knew and withheld material information concerning the safety of the Combat Arms earplug.” Internal emails from the company provided evidence, said plaintiff’s attorneys.

So far, plaintiffs have won four out of five cases presented and two out of three bellwether trials (trials that indicate trends in litigation) in the mass tort. A jury awarded three plaintiffs $7.1 million in the first bellwether trial on April 30. Following a joint investigation by the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command and the U.S. Dept. of Justice in 2018, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle claims for civil fraud and the following year individual lawsuits were consolidated into a larger suit.

Earlier this month, a jury decided in favor of 3M in one of the suits, according to Pioneer Press.

“In Baker’s case, jurors found that 3M failed to provide adequate warnings for the earplug and that they were liable for the veteran’s tinnitus,” said Seeger Weiss.

The final verdict will be reduced by 38 percent to reflect 3M’s exclusive liability (62 percent) for Baker’s injuries, said the firm.