U.S. Army veteran James Beal, one of approximately 290,000 service members to file hearing damage claims over 3M’s Combat Arms Version 2 (CAEv2) military earplugs, was awarded $77.5 million by a federal jury in Pensacola, FL. The verdict, reached May 20, marks the 16th and final bellwether trial in the initial phase of what has become the nation’s largest mass tort adjudicated multidistrict litigation (MDL) in U.S. history. 

Beal’s trial win over 3M is also noteworthy because it is the largest award in the MDL in which a jury has ordered the company to pay a single plaintiff. In the 11th bellwether trial, 3M was ordered to pay two plaintiffs (Sloan and Wayman) $110 million. 

In the 16 bellwether trials, 3M has been cleared of liability in six trials. In the 10 trials that have returned plaintiff verdicts, juries have ordered 3M to pay almost $300 million, including the Beal decision. Previous to the Beal case, the largest single-plaintiff award was $50 million in the 13th trial (Vilsmeyer). 

According to the Washington Post, the plaintiff’s attorneys said in a joint statement, “It is clear 3M’s defenses — whether in the courts, to investors, or the public — are unconvincing and without merit.” 

After the Beal verdict was announced, 3M said it would appeal the decision and stated, “As in previous bellwether trials, we were prevented from presenting crucial evidence to the jury, and we will address that issue, among others, in our appeal.”

Judge Robin Rosenberg, who oversaw the Zantac MDL, presided over the Beal trial. The judge overseeing the 3M earplug MDL, Judge Casey Rodgers, has ordered more than 20,000 earplug cases be moved to the active docket from the administrative docket for the next phase of CAEv2 litigation in the event a settlement is not reached. 

Beal, who was found to have developed hearing loss and tinnitus because of an imperceptible design flaw in 3M’s military earplugs, served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves from 2005 until 2011. CAEv2 was the exclusive military-issued earplug between 2003 and 2012 and was sold to the Department of Defense until 2015.