Nearly 300,000 United States service members and veterans are suing technology and manufacturing giant 3M over claims that their supply of military earplugs caused soldiers to suffer hearing loss, tinnitus, and other hearing difficulties. The dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs (CAEv2) were standard issue equipment for US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan for over 10 years.
In this episode of Law, disrupted, host John Quinn and his guests, Matt Hosen and Bryan Alystock, discuss how this defective earplug litigation started and evolved into the largest consolidated mass tort litigation in history.
To open the episode, Matt Hosen shares how, as a second year Quinn Emanuel associate, he found, buried in a large document production in an antitrust case in which the firm represented a company called Moldex-Metric, an internal 3M document which became known as “The Flange Report.” He explains that the report by a scientist at 3M revealed that the earplugs that 3M had been selling to the U.S. military for over 15 years were defective.
Matt goes on to describe how Hal Barza, a former Quinn Emanuel partner, used the Flange Report in depositions of 3M laboratory employees to great effect; leading not only to the resolution of the antitrust case, but also the commencement of a whistleblower False Claims Act (Qui Tam) case brought against 3M on behalf of the U.S. government. In connection with this Qui Tam lawsuit, the Flange Report was brought to the government’s attention, leading to the United States Department of Justice’s intervention in the case. 3M entered into a settlement with the U.S. government in 2018 agreeing to pay $9.1 million to resolve allegations it knowingly sold the earplugs to the U.S. military without disclosing the CAEv2 defects. The DOJ issued a public press release in July 2018 announcing the Qui Tam settlement.
Bryan Aylstock, managing and founding partner of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz, based in Pensacola, Florida, then joins the conversation to explain how this DOJ press release led to the plaintiffs’ mass tort bar filing cases all over the United States on behalf of U.S. service members alleging product defect, failure to warn and fraud claims. These cases were later consolidated into a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in Pensacola before Chief District Court Judge Casey Rodgers.
Judge Rodgers appointed the Alystock firm to lead a Plaintiff Leadership Committee consisting of over three dozen law firms, including Quinn Emanuel. Judge Rodgers oversaw all aspects of discovery in the MDL, and with input from plaintiffs’ and defendants’ counsel, selected individual service members to serve as bellwether plaintiffs. Bellwether trials began in April, 2021.
Plaintiff service members have achieved victory in 9 of the 15 bellwether trials to date, receiving over $222 million in damages. In the most recent bellwether trial, a Gainesville, Florida jury found in favor of the army veteran on all counts and awarded $2.2 million in compensatory damages. If the average awards in these bellwether cases, including the defense verdicts, are applied across the nearly 300,000 service member lawsuits currently pending, 3M’s total exposure would be over $1 trillion.
With the bellwether process almost concluded, the guests explain how hundreds of individual lawsuits are now completing discovery, prior to being remanded to federal judges across the country for trial.
Published: May 11 2022