February 7, 2023

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US judge fines 3M, preventing it from escalating liability in Reuters earplug litigation

©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The 3M logo is seen at its global headquarters in Maplewood, Minnesota, on March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – A US judge on Thursday barred 3M Co from trying to avoid liability for injuries to current and former US service members suffered from its allegedly defective earbuds by shifting blame to a subsidiary.

U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, the Pensacola, Fla.-based judge charged with overseeing nearly 250,000 combat earplug cases, said 3M deserved the “severest punishment” for its “bad faith” attempts that Transfer liability to a bankrupt entity.

That unit, Aearo Technologies, had developed the Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) earplugs for the US military before 3M acquired them in 2008. After Aearo filed for bankruptcy in Indiana in July, 3M sought to stay proceedings against the company.

However, a bankruptcy judge declined in August to shelve the lawsuit against 3M. Rodgers said the bankruptcy judge’s decision, which 3M is appealing, “should have ended the sophistry” and 3M’s attempt to avoid liability.

Instead, she said, almost four years ago, after the legal battle began, 3M attempted to “rewrite the history of the CAEv2” by claiming for the first time that it was not independently responsible for any injuries as Aearo’s buyer.

3M has lost 10 of the 16 earplug cases so far in court, with a total of approximately $265 million awarded to 13 plaintiffs.

Rodgers said 3M was “masquerading as the wrong party’s hapless defendant and intentionally ambushing the other side with a totally fabricated strategic position,” and she prevented them from “blaming the Aearo defendants.”

3M said in a statement it would appeal, calling Rodgers’ decision an “incomplete and inaccurate representation of our good faith efforts in this litigation.”

Lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Bryan Aylstock and Chris Seeger, welcomed the ruling in a joint statement, saying 3M has always represented itself as the sole defendant, liable for any injuries caused by the earbuds.

“We welcome Judge Rodger’s order closing the door on 3M’s duplicitous, malicious attempt to pin blame on the Aearo defendants in the service of his fabricated bankruptcy maneuver,” they said.

In a separate ruling, Rodgers dismissed, on judicial grounds, a lawsuit brought by two veterans who sought to block the proposed spin-off of 3M’s healthcare business, in what they called an illegal attempt to avoid veteran compensation.