An attorney representing current and former U.S. military service members in suits against 3M Co. over allegedly defective military earplugs is also working on veterans’ litigation against Iran, alleging it interfered in U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan by providing dangerous explosive devices.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Bryan Aylstock has a family background of military service and a “keen interest” in litigating on behalf of military personnel, he told Bloomberg Law.
His legal team recently succeeded in getting a federal court to block 3M’s defense that it was immune to suit as a government contractor. The cases now move toward bellwether trials, which could start in the spring, Aylstock said.
The litigation is one of the largest mass torts ever, with about 200,000 cases. It likely trails only asbestos litigation, which saw more than 700,000 claimants by 2003, according to a 2005 report for the RAND Institute for Civil Justice.
For managing such a large caseload, “there is no substitute for direct and frequent communication with the people you represent,” he said. His firm has 25 lawyers and 200 support staff for plaintiffs to discuss their situations with, he said.
The 3M litigation is very important to veterans, Aylstock said. Their hearing loss and tinnitus strongly affect their lives, he said.
Hearing loss is progressive, he said. “These are relatively young individuals; it doesn’t bode well,” and the conditions can contribute to insomnia, social isolation, depression, and PTSD, he said.
Aylstock hails from a family with a history of military service: His great-grandfather was in the Army, his grandfather and an uncle in the Navy, and his father and another uncle in the Air Force.
“We also have many veterans on our team, which has been invaluable as we prosecute the 3M case,” he said.
3M’s government contractor defense was a big hurdle for the plaintiffs, and trials, which start in April, will be the next big step, he said. Bellwether discovery is underway, he said. The 25 cases are in groups and “will be tried in quick succession to estimate values,” he said.
3M declined to comment on the case for this story, referring instead to a website the company created in response to the litigation.
Aylstock’s firm—Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz PLLC—is based in Pensacola, Fla., which is near a naval air station and has a high percentage of veterans.
Aylstock serves as lead counsel in the 3M litigation, together with Shelley Hutson of Clark, Love & Hutson GP and Christopher A. Seeger of Seeger Weiss LLP.
The location, he said, is “the perfect place” for the 3M Combat Arms Earplug litigation, which is consolidated there before Judge M. Casey Rodgers of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
Aylstock was an honors intern at the Federal Tort Claims division at the Department of Justice. He clerked for Judge Roger Vinson in the Northern District of Florida and worked at plaintiffs’ firm Levin Papantonio PA in Pensacola before co-founding his firm, he said.
He also represents about 300 wounded veterans and some families of military personnel who were killed in a case over attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iranian nationals interfered in those countries, supplying dangerous variations on improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, he said.
The first of two suits against the Islamic Republic of Iran and its instrumentalities was filed Aug. 21 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and the other is forthcoming.
The first suit alleges that Iran engaged in terrorist attacks in Iraq. The attacks didn’t occur “in the course of (A) declared war; (B) armed conflict, whether or not war has been declared, between two or more nations; or (C) armed conflict between military forces of any origin,” the complaint says.
The firm’s website says that Iran’s agents “armed proxy forces and facilitated kinetic actions on the battlefield to kill or injure those supporting security and stability operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Aylstock doesn’t anticipate consolidated federal litigation as in the 3M case, he said.
Iranian officials can be served, Aylstock said. “They may not want to show up,” but Iran has assets the plaintiffs can reach, he said.
“There will be legal hoops to go through,” he said. “We’re prepared to go the distance.”
Source: Bloomberg Law
Reporter: Martina Brash