The ultimate venue for dozens of class action lawsuits filed by military veterans against Minnesota manufacturing giant 3M Co. alleging hearing damage related to defective earplugs while serving may end up in San Antonio.
Attorneys for military members in Bexar County, most of whom are retired commanders, captains and colonels, filed a lawsuit against 3M (NYSE:MMM) on March 8 seeking damages that include back pay and medical expenses after experiencing hearing loss, in addition to physical pain and suffering, mental anguish and other punitive damages.
In July 2018, 3M agreed to a settlement with the federal government for $9.1 million related to its Combat Arms earplugs, which were issued to military members from 2002 to 2013. The company admitted to no wrongdoing as part of the federal settlement.
The original manufacturer of the earplugs, which plaintiffs claim were too short to be effective on the battlefield, was Aearo Technologies Inc. — a company 3M acquired in 2008. The companies withheld information about the effectiveness of the earplugs, according to the allegations by the Department of Justice, which invoked enforcement under the False Claims Act. The whistleblower in the case was awarded $1.9 million.
3M denies that its products were faulty, according to a statement to the Business Journal.
“3M has great respect for the brave men and women who protect us around the world, and their safety is our priority. We have a long history of partnering with the U.S. military, and we continue to make products to help protect our troops and support their missions,” according to the statement. “We deny this product was defectively designed and will defend against the allegations in these lawsuits through the legal process.”
Individual military members nationwide are seeking reimbursement from the manufacturer. Plaintiffs claim that Aearo knew the earplugs were defective as early as 2000. 3M discontinued the earplugs in 2015.
Bexar County resident and U.S. Army veteran Joe Contreras, who served from 2000 to 2014, used the 3M earplugs while training at Fort Hood and while deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the lawsuit. Contreras now has tinnitus, or constant ringing in the ears, and uses hearing aids, according to the lawsuit.
There are roughly 262,700 veterans in Texas who served in the military during the time frame of the class action lawsuit.
“We think that Military City USA is the proper venue for this case,” said TJ Mayes, a spokesman for San Antonio law firm Phipps Deacon Purnell PLLC. “We believe there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of service members who may have a claim. We believe the conduct was pretty egregious. They deliberately withheld information from the Pentagon.”
- Retired U.S. Army Col. Julie Hasdorff of Hasdorff & Convery PC
- Retired Maj. Gen. Patrick Boone, who served in the Texas Air National Guard, of Boone, Rocheleau & Rodriguez PLLC
- Retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Keith Gould with The Gould Law Firm
- Retired Capt. Ted Lee, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves
- Retired U.S. Army 1st Lt. Rolando Rios of the Law offices of Rolando Rios
- Retired U.S. Air Force Capt. Freddy Ruiz, attorney at law
The Western District of Texas includes Joint Base San Antonio and Fort Hood in its jurisdiction. There are similar lawsuits pending in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
The 3M’s stock was trading at about $207 per share midafternoon on March 13, down from its 52-week peak of $237 per share in mid-March 2018.