Jury awards record $13 million in latest 3M earplug bellwether

Nov 16, 2021

(Reuters) – A jury in Tallahassee, Florida federal court on Monday awarded $13 million to a U.S. Army sergeant who said he suffered hearing damage as a result of using military-issue earplugs made by 3M Co.

The verdict for Guillermo Camarillorazo, including about $800,000 in compensatory damages and $12.25 million in punitive damages, came in the seventh bellwether trial in a massive multidistrict litigation over the Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2), and was the largest recovery yet for a single plaintiff.

It came on the heels of a verdict in favor of 3M on Friday in the previous bellwether trial in which a jury in Pensacola rejected similar claims by Army veteran Joseph Palanki. Plaintiffs have now prevailed in four trials, and 3M in three.

3M called Monday’s loss “disappointing” and said it would appeal. The company called Friday’s verdict an “important demonstration that jurors agree 3M’s CAEv2 product was safe and effective to use.”

Lawyers representing plaintiffs in the MDL said in a joint statement that Camarillorazo “successfully held 3M accountable for putting profits over the safety of those who served our nation.” In a separate statement on Friday’s verdict, they said they had “deep respect and admiration” for Palanki and expressed confidence about future trials.

Minnesota-based 3M is facing more than 270,000 claims over the earplugs, which were standard issue for many U.S. military service members between 2003 and 2015.

Plaintiffs allege that they suffered hearing loss and damage, including tinnitus, a persistent ringing in the ears, because their earplugs were defective and did not protect them from dangerous noise. 3M has denied the claims.

The vast majority of the cases are consolidated before U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida, in the largest multidistrict litigation in history.

Rodgers presided over the first five bellwether trials in Pensacola, in which juries awarded a total of more than $15 million to five plaintiffs.

Palanki’s and Camarillorazo’s trials were held before Northern District of Florida Chief Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee and Northern District of Alabama Judge Liles Burke in Pensacola, respectively.

Nine more bellwether trials are scheduled through the end of May.

The MDL is In re 3M Combat Arms Earplug Products Liability Litigation, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida, No. 19-md-2885.

The bellwethers are Palanki v. 3M Co, No. 19-cv-02324, and Camarillorazo v. 3M Co, No. 20-cv-00098, in the Northern District of Florida.

For Palanki: Shelley Hutson of Clark, Love & Hutson; and Brian Barr and Michael Papantonio of Levin Papantonio Rafferty

For Camarillorazo: Jennifer Hoekstra of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz; Thomas Pirtle of Laminack, Pirtle & Martines; and Paul Pennock of Morgan & Morgan

For 3M: Barry Fields, Mike Brock and others at Kirkland & Ellis

Source: Reuters

By Brendan Pierson