For over a decade, members of the military used 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs to protect their ears from loud sounds like helicopter noise, gunfire, and explosions. Service members now claim that 3M, the manufacturer of the earplugs, defectively designed the earplugs and failed to warn users about known safety concerns, leaving service members with permanent injuries like hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
If you're thinking about filing a lawsuit over health problems caused by the use of 3M combat earplugs, having the right attorney on your side can be crucial. Here's what you need to know:
Before you file a lawsuit against 3M, it's helpful to know some background information about similar lawsuits.
The explosion of 3M civil lawsuits started with a whistleblower claim filed by a competitor of 3M under the False Claims Act in 2016. The whistleblower said that 3M knowingly sold defective earplugs to the United States military. 3M eventually agreed to pay the United States $9.1 million to settle the claim.
The whistleblower settlement opened the door to over 270,000 service members ("plaintiffs") filing personal injury lawsuits against 3M. Most of the 3M lawsuits have been transferred to the Northern District of Florida in the largest mass tort "multi-district litigation" (MDL) in history—officially called 3M Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2885.
An MDL is a group of lawsuits based on similar facts. MDLs aren't class actions. A class action is one lawsuit filed on behalf of a large group of people who suffered uniform, mostly financial harm. Consumer fraud cases are often class actions.
An MDL is a better fit for personal injury lawsuits that share common issues, like 3M earplug lawsuits. The goal of MDL is to streamline pre-trial procedures (like discovery) and encourage settlement through the use of "bellwether" trials. Bellwether trials are cases chosen by the judge and parties to go to trial first because they represent the most common legal issues in the MDL. The bellwether trials often give the parties the information they need to reach an agreement to settle all MDL cases. If the parties don't reach a global settlement, individual cases are sent back to where they were originally filed for trial.
If you've been diagnosed with any type of injury after regularly using 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, you should talk to a lawyer about a potential product liability lawsuit against 3M. You'll have to show:
The most difficult thing for you to show will be that your injuries are related to your use of the earplugs. You'll need your exact diagnosis and treatment plan.
Learn more about why a medical diagnosis is crucial in mass tort cases like 3M lawsuits.
Even though hundreds of thousands of 3M lawsuits are consolidated in MDL, you can still file a claim so long as the deadline to file a lawsuit (called the "statute of limitations") hasn't passed.
Each state and the federal government has its own time limits for filing lawsuits. Different deadlines apply to different kinds of cases. In most states, the statute of limitations deadline that applies to 3M lawsuits is one to six years from the diagnosis or discovery of your injury. Don't delay. An attorney can help you sort out which deadline applies to your case. If you miss the deadline, your case will likely be dismissed and you won't be able to get compensation for your injuries.
Learn more about 3M lawsuit filing deadlines.
If you're thinking about filing a 3M earplug lawsuit, you're probably wondering how much compensation you might get for your losses (called "damages").
Damages can be hard to predict and vary from case to case. 3M earplug plaintiffs typically want compensation for:
Some plaintiffs in the 3M bellwether trials have also been awarded punitive damages. For example, in May 2022, a Florida jury awarded a U.S. Army veteran $77.5, including $72.5 million in punitive damages, the highest ever for a single individual plaintiff. Damage awards are typically meant to compensate victims for their losses. But punitive damages are meant to punish defendants for reprehensible behavior.
Online resources like AllLaw are a great place to start putting together a list of potential attorneys to handle your 3M combat earplug lawsuit. You can also ask trusted people, like friends and coworkers, for a referral to an attorney. You might want to reach out to fellow service members to find out if they're experiencing hearing problems too, and, if so, whether they've talked to a lawyer.
Remember, you're not just looking for a lawyer who has experience handling lawsuits like yours; you're also looking for a lawyer you can trust. State bar associations usually have websites that allow you to look up potential lawyers to find out if they're licensed and whether they've been disciplined for ethical violations.
When you interview a potential lawyer on the phone or in person, find out:
Remember to think about any special needs you might have, and consider practicalities. For example, do you need a bilingual lawyer? If you'll need to visit the lawyer from time to time, is the lawyer's office close to your house or public transportation? Check out more questions to ask a potential personal injury attorney.
As with the majority of injury-related cases, when an attorney takes on a 3M earplugs claim, the lawyer will typically handle the case under a "contingency fee" agreement. That means the attorney only earns a fee if the service member gets money in a settlement or after trial.
Let's take a closer look at how these agreements work, and the importance of understanding the fine print of your attorney-client agreement when it comes to issues like "costs."
Under a contingency fee agreement, your attorney takes a percentage of any settlement or court judgment you receive, and usually pays for all costs as the case proceeds. If your 3M lawsuit doesn't reach a settlement, and there is no court judgment in your favor, you typically don't owe the attorney anything. Win or lose you may have to repay your lawyer for costs, like filing fees.
A contingency fee is often 33%. Some attorneys will handle a 3M earplugs case on a "sliding scale," which works much the same way as a standard contingency fee arrangement, except the lawyer's fee percentage goes up as the case progresses. For example, if the case settles before the lawyer has to file a lawsuit, the fee percentage might be 25%. If the plaintiff wins after the case goes all the way through trial, the attorney's fee might be 40%.
Costs and fees are two different things in a lawsuit over a potentially-defective product like 3M combat earplugs. Costs are the expenses that the attorney or firm pays in order to move the case along toward settlement or judgment. Costs typically include:
Most plaintiffs' attorneys try to keep costs down, but they can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars. Your fee agreement should spell out if you or your lawyer will have to pay for costs if you lose your case. Learn about managing lawyer costs and expenses in a personal injury case.
Attorneys' fees are different from costs. Attorney's fees compensate attorneys for their time for tasks like researching and drafting the complaint and motions, appearing in court, calling witnesses, reviewing documents, taking and defending depositions, and preparing for and putting on a trial.
An important point to consider when it comes to costs: If you win your case, you will usually be on the financial hook for costs. But whether your attorney takes his or her contingency fee percentage before or after these costs are paid can make a significant difference in how much you ultimately receive.
For example, let's say your lawsuit goes to trial, and the jury awards you $100,000. Your litigation costs are $12,500, and your attorney's contingency fee percentage is 33%. If your litigation costs are paid before your attorney takes his or her contingency fee percentage, the attorney gets $28,875 (33% of $87,500) and you get $58,625 ($87,500 minus $28,875).
But if you pay for litigation costs after your attorney takes the contingency fee percentage, your attorney gets $33,000 (33% of $100,000) and you get $54,500 ($67,000 minus $12,500). The timing here results in a $4,125 difference in your settlement.
Again, these kinds of financial details—and whether you could be on the hook for any expenses if you don't end up with a settlement or judgment—should be clearly stated in the fee agreement you sign.
When you hire a lawyer, you want to make sure you end up with the right person for you and your case. And that expectation can work both ways. Just like you want a good lawyer to fight for you, every lawyer wants a "good client." Here are some tips on working with your lawyer to ensure the best outcome for your 3M lawsuit:
Let's say that sometime after you hire Attorney A, you decide to end the attorney-client relationship (for whatever reason) and take your combat earplugs case to Attorney B at a different firm. Attorney A probably has a "lien" on any costs advanced toward your case, and on any proportional fees for representation, which will likely come out of any settlement or judgment Attorney B obtains on your behalf. The attorneys will sort this issue out between themselves, but it's something to keep in mind, and to discuss with a new attorney if you change representation.
If you're experiencing health problems that could be linked to your use of 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs, you should talk to a lawyer. Learn more about how to find the right personal injury lawyer. You can also use the form on the top or bottom of this page to connect with a 3M earplug attorney for free.
Even if you think you have a good case, be prepared for a lawyer to turn down the opportunity to represent you. Many lawyers don't take cases if they fall below a certain potential recovery amount, or if a key element of the case is less than clear. For example, maybe you can show that you used 3M combat earplugs, but you haven't received a diagnosis of a specific hearing problem yet. Be prepared to keep looking for help with your case, or to look again as your situation changes.