A federal judge has issued an order for 3M CEO Michael Roman to partake in mediation sessions aimed at resolving nearly 260,000 lawsuits alleging that 3M’s military earplugs caused hearing loss. The judge emphasized that the negotiations have reached a “critical juncture.”
The lawsuits, which have been consolidated in U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers’ Florida court, claim that 3M’s combat arms earplugs were defective and resulted in damage to the plaintiffs’ hearing.
U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers, responsible for overseeing the consolidated lawsuits, has instructed CEO Michael Roman to engage in mediation talks in Pensacola on May 25 and 26. The judge stated that Roman’s presence would allow him to “listen and engage directly with the mediators.” While the ongoing mediation has shown promise thus far, Rodgers noted that the involvement of 3M’s senior leadership is crucial for progress.
Seeking to Resolve Earplug Litigation
The objective of 3M, through its subsidiary Aearo Technologies LLC, is to resolve the earplug claims by means of bankruptcy. However, 3M initially opposed the revival of mediation efforts in Florida federal court while Aearo’s bankruptcy case was pending. Previous attempts at mediation reached a deadlock in January as both 3M and the earplug plaintiffs shifted their focus to Aearo’s bankruptcy proceedings.
Following a court order earlier this month, 3M was compelled to resume mediation. Despite this, a company spokesperson reiterated that 3M believes Aearo’s bankruptcy offers a more expedient and equitable solution for resolving the earplug claims. This stance has been met with strong opposition from the plaintiffs, who argue that 3M is attempting to evade litigation in Florida following a series of unfavorable legal rulings and trial losses.
Veterans and service members have called for the dismissal of Aearo’s bankruptcy, which is currently being handled in U.S. bankruptcy court in Indianapolis. They eagerly await a ruling from the presiding judge. Aearo filed for bankruptcy in July of last year, with 3M committing $1 billion to cover Aearo’s liabilities arising from the lawsuits. The litigation against both 3M and Aearo constitutes the largest-ever multi-district litigation in U.S. history, with nearly 330,000 cases filed and approximately 260,000 pending cases as of the latest court statistics from May 15.
To date, 3M has lost 10 of the 16 cases that proceeded to trial, resulting in approximately $265 million awarded to 13 plaintiffs.