How Long Will My 3M Earplugs Lawsuit Take?

It's never easy to predict when a lawsuit over faulty 3M combat earplugs will settle or go to trial, but here are some guidelines.

By , J.D.

If you're a U.S. military servicemember (active or veteran) with a history of using 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs and you're experiencing hearing loss, tinnitus, or other health problems, you might be thinking about filing a lawsuit. If so, here's what you need to know:

  • A typical 3M combat earplugs lawsuit goes through a number of distinct stages.
  • A number of factors will determine the timeline of your particular case, including whether your lawsuit is included in multidistrict litigation (MDL).
  • Most personal injury lawsuits settle. Settlement can occur at any point.

The 3M Combat Earplugs Lawsuit Timeline

Here's a snapshot of the key phases of a typical lawsuit over a potentially-defective product like 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs:

  • The consumer or user of the product (now the "plaintiff") files a civil complaint in court. The complaint is the document that starts the personal injury lawsuit. It describes the plaintiff's case and claims against the "defendant"—usually 3M, the earplugs manufacturer. (Learn more about who is liable for problems with 3M combat earplugs and why a claim against the federal government for issuing the earplugs to service members is almost certain to fail.)
  • The lawsuit may become part of ongoing 3M multidistrict litigation, which is a form of lawsuit consolidation. Learn more about how MDL works in a mass tort case and get the latest information on 3M lawsuits.
  • The defendant files an answer to the complaint.
  • The discovery process begins: The plaintiff and defendant exchange information, medical records, and other evidence through written questions (interrogatories), sworn testimony (depositions), and document requests.
  • The court hears pre-trial motions: Both sides of the lawsuit try to persuade the judge to allow or disallow certain evidence (testimony from a proposed expert witness, for example) and to dismiss all or part of the other side's argument.
  • Trial: The plaintiff and defendant present the evidence and their arguments and the judge or jury decide whether the defendant should pay for the plaintiff's losses ("damages") tied to the use of 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms earplugs.

How Long Will a 3M Earplugs Lawsuit Take?

The discovery process is typically the longest part of the lawsuit process and can take years. Individual trials can take weeks or months. The first 3M earplug MDL trial (called a "bellwether trial") happened in early 2021. The bellwether trial process is supposed to save resources, promote efficiency, and potentially lead to a global settlement of the roughly 230,000 lawsuits joined in the MDL action.

Now let's take a closer look at factors that have the biggest impact on how long the faulty combat earplug lawsuit process might take. And know that the two sides can reach a settlement at any point during the process.

Who Can File a 3M Earplugs Lawsuit?

For over a decade, members of the military used 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs to protect their ears from loud sounds during training exercises and in active combat. 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 hundreds of thousands of service members with injuries like hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and heightened post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

Service members who have been diagnosed with any type of injury after regularly using 3M Dual-Ended Combat Arms Earplugs between the years 2003 and 2015, should talk to a lawyer about a potential product liability lawsuit against 3M.

How Much Is a 3M Earplugs Case Worth?

The amount of compensation ("damages") a 3M earplugs plaintiff might win in an out-of-court settlement or after trial can be hard to predict and varies from case to case. Common categories of damages in 3M earplugs lawsuits include:

Some plaintiffs in the 3M bellwether trials have also been awarded punitive damages. Damage awards are typically meant to compensate victims for their losses. But punitive damages are meant to punish defendants for outrageous behavior and can lead to big payouts for plaintiffs.

As of June 2022, the bellwether verdicts are split. Juries have awarded nearly $300 million in damages to U.S. service members and veterans. Attorneys will continue to keep a close eye on upcoming 3M bellwether trials for more hints about the potential value of a 3M combat earplug case.

Earplug Defect/Hearing Loss Cases Can Be Complicated

Most 3M earplug lawsuits rely on the legal concept of product liability, in which a plaintiff seeks to hold a manufacturer responsible for health problems caused by an unreasonably dangerous or otherwise defective product. These kinds of cases can be quite complex. You'll have to figure out the appropriate statute-of-limitations filing deadline in light of the plaintiff's symptoms. And you'll have stacks of medical records to sift through, plus expert witnesses to hear from (often multiple experts on both sides of the case). 3M might even argue that a pre-existing condition is the cause of the plaintiff's hearing problems.

All this means some of the phases mentioned above will undoubtedly take longer than they might in a less complex lawsuit (one stemming from a car accident, for example). That's especially true when it comes to the discovery process and the filing of pretrial motions that will set the ground rules for any trial.

The court's calendar might also affect the timeline of a 3M combat earplugs case. If the calendar is clogged because of COVID-19 delays or for some other reason, trial dates might get pushed back for months.

When Will My 3M Lawsuit Be Settled?

As discussed above, any 3M combat earplugs lawsuit is bound to follow roughly the same path from the filing of the complaint through resolution. But it's important to note that settlement of the lawsuit can take place at any time, especially if your case isn't part of the MDL.

Most parties test the settlement waters as the trial date gets closer and the parties get a better sense of the case (and of their respective chances of winning). And even if the two sides don't come together on their own to try to resolve the case, most judges require the plaintiff and defendant to attend at least one mandatory settlement conference before a trial starts. Learn more about settling a 3M earplugs lawsuit.

In early June 2022, the judge overseeing the 3M MDL ordered attorneys from both sides to begin settlement discussions by July 15, 2022. The judge wrote that after 16 bellwether trials, the parties have had a good chance to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their claims and defenses and it's time for them to make an effort to resolve as many of the 230,000 or so remaining cases in the MDL as possible.

In late July 2022, 3M announced that Aearo Technologies, the division that made 3M's combat earplugs, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. 3M says that putting the division in bankruptcy is the fastest and most equitable way to resolve the 3M claims.

3M pledged to fund a $1 billion trust that would pay service members who are suing over the earplugs. Some lawyers for 3M plaintiffs have vowed to challenge 3M's bankruptcy maneuver, saying that $1 billion isn't nearly enough to compensate service members for their injuries.

Your 3M Earplugs Lawsuit Timeline Is (Partly) up to You

One of the biggest variables in determining how long your 3M combat earplugs lawsuit will take is you. If the defendant offers you a settlement early on, you'll certainly end up with some fast cash, but you might not be getting full and fair compensation for your losses.

Before you settle your case, you'll typically need:

Talk to a 3M Earplugs Lawyer

3M lawsuits, like most mass torts, are complicated. You'll need someone who understands your medical diagnosis and how to prove the connection between your diagnosis and your use of 3M earplugs. You'll also need someone who won't be intimated by a defendant, like 3M, with deep pockets and a team of attorneys.

The 3M earplugs MDL is the largest in history. You'll need a lawyer who is familiar with the MDL and how it might impact your case.

Learn more about how to find an attorney for your 3M combat earplug case. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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