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3M Earplugs: How Can Manufacturers Be Held Liable for Faulty Products?

News about veterans filing suit against Minnesota-based manufacturer 3M Company have swept the nation, and revealed the permanent and profound repercussions of injuries linked to its allegedly faulty earplugs.

As we’ve discussed, 3M’s CAEv2 earplugs – or Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 – were purportedly designed and manufactured in a way that made them ineffective for their intended use. Rather than protecting service members’ hearing, they routinely failed and led to hundreds if not thousands of veterans suffering permanent noise-induced hearing loss, ringing in the ears (known as tinnitus), and other similar injuries.

For these veterans and their families, the question now is how 3M, like other product manufacturers subject to liability laws, can be held responsible for their losses.

Liability: Financial Responsibility for Victims’ Damages

Liability generally means responsibility, and in civil injury lawsuits (or “torts”), it refers to one party being financially responsible for the damages suffered by a victim. These damages can be economic (meaning they have a direct financial cost) and non-economic (which are intangible losses suffered by victims, and more difficult to calculate as monetary sums).

Examples of damages sought by victims include:

  • Past medical bills (doctor’s visits, medications, surgery, medical devices, etc.)
  • Expected costs of any future medical treatment
  • Lost income caused by missing work
  • Lost future earnings due to diminished earning potential / ability to work
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Emotional suffering / lost quality of life
  • Loss of consortium / emotional support (suffered by a victim’s family)

Product Liability: Holding Manufacturers Responsible

In many injury cases, liability typically arises from negligence; when a negligent driver causes a car crash, for example, they can be held liable for victims’ damages. Product liability cases can also involve claims of negligence (when a product manufacturer negligently assembles a toy, for instance), but may also be brought on grounds of strict liability, breach of warranty, and other civil claims.

In cases where claimants allege a faulty product caused injuries and damages, product liability laws require them to prove a product was defective, and that the defect made the product unreasonably dangerous. There are three ways they might go about this:

  • Design defects – Proving a product was defectively designed, making it unreasonably dangerous from its inception, before it was manufactured.
  • Manufacturing defects – Proving a product was made or assembled defectively, such as by using substandard materials or failing to implement quality control and testing procedures.
  • Marketing defects – Proving failures in the marketing of a product, which may include inadequate instructions, failures to provide sufficient safety warnings, and insufficient labeling.

The product liability lawsuit filed against 3M by Bailey Cowan Heckaman PLLC includes claims of negligence and design and marketing defects, in addition to other causes of action.

Understanding Liability in 3M Earplug Lawsuits

Veterans filing 3M earplug lawsuits are seeking financial compensation for damages they claim were caused by defective CAEv2 earplugs. Just like allegations made by the Department of Justice in a False Claims Act case, veterans are generally claiming that:

  • CAEv2 earplugs were defectively designed;
  • 3M failed to provide adequate warnings / instructions to users; and
  • 3M knew about defects associated with its earplugs, but failed to address them (and misrepresented test results) to the detriment of veterans who used them as hearing protection

While 3M reached a settlement with the federal government over claims it knowingly supplied the U.S. military with faulty earplugs, that settlement meant no findings about the Justice Department’s allegations were officially made. 3M may have paid $9.1 million dollars to settle the case in July 2018, but it to date has not admitted to the DOJ’s claims, nor that its combat earplugs were defective.

Of course, there’s the possibility 3M may reach some type of settlement with the many former military members who say they suffered harm after using its CAEv2 earplugs. Similar to the federal False Claims Act case, that injury settlement could mean 3M won’t have to necessarily admit its product was in fact faulty.

 However, whether a resolution in favor of vets comes by way of settlement (which is most common) or by verdict (meaning the case goes to trial) it would still mean the company is liable for damages suffered by veterans. That would be a positive resolution for those struggling with hearing loss and injuries that impact their physical and emotional well-being, and their ability to work and earn income, manage daily activities, and enjoy meaningful connections with loved ones.

Even though settlements are possible in personal injury cases, claimants still need to build the leverage required to reach them (i.e. building a strong claim supported by evidence), and work with the right attorneys to protect their rights as they negotiate for settlement terms and compensation awards that meet the full scope of their needs.

Have questions about a 3M earplug lawsuit and whether you might have a claim? Call us or contact us online to speak with a lawyer. BCH is an award-winning Houston-based personal injury and product liability law firm serving victims nationwide.

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