Veterans Personal Injury Suits Alleging Defective 3M Earplugs Skyrocket

The latest available data from the federal courts show that during February 2020 there was a 78.5 percent jump in the number of all types of civil lawsuits filed as compared to December 2019. New civil lawsuits in February totaled 39,142. This represented the second highest monthly total for federal civil court filings over the last decade. By comparison, during all of FY 2019 new civil suits averaged just 24,735 per month.

This jump in February was largely the result of a surge of lawsuits filed by thousands of veterans claiming that they had suffered hearing loss and other hearing-related problems as a result of defective 3M supplied earplugs. These suits are classified as "personal injury - product liability" cases in the federal court data. The veterans' suits claimed that 3M knew these earplugs had defects but sold them to the Army anyway without disclosing this information to the Army or warning the public.

According to the case-by-case information on federal civil lawsuits analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, nearly half (47.5%) of all federal civil litigation filed during February involved product liability personal injury matters. During February 2020 there were a total of 18,600 such suits filed with the vast majority of them involving these veteran suits. When monthly 2020 civil filings of this type are compared with those of the same period in the previous year, their number was up by 488 percent.

The long-term trend in personal injury - product liability civil filings going back five years is shown more clearly in Figure 1. The vertical bars in Figure 1 represent the number of personal injury- product liability civil filings recorded each month. The superimposed line on the bars plots the six-month moving average so that natural fluctuations are smoothed out. One-year change comparisons were based upon the moving averages.

The veterans' lawsuits against 3M are not distributed throughout the country. Back in April of last year as filings across the country by veterans began to grow, a judicial panel had then consolidated existing and any new veterans cases involving these alleged defective 3M earplugs and assigned United States District Judge M. Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida to handle their pretrial matters since they involved common issues and questions of fact about the "design, testing, sale, and marketing of the Combat Arms Earplugs" (case 3:19-md-2885).

Figure 1. Personal Injury- Product Liability Civil Filings Over the Last Five Years
with 6-month moving average

Each month, TRAC offers a free report focused on one area of civil litigation in the U.S. district courts. In addition, subscribers to the TRACFed data service can generate custom reports by district, office, nature of suit or federal jurisdiction via the TRAC Data Interpreter.