3M Litigation Update: Judge Rules that 3M Cannot Avoid Liability with Government Contractor Defense

By Ashley B. DiLiberto

Aug 03

3m earplug victims, tinnitus, hering loss, 3m earplug lawsuits

On Friday July 24, 2020, the U.S. District Judge presiding over ongoing 3M Earplug Litigation, Honorable M. Casey Rodgers, rejected 3M Defendants’ key legal defense, which they planned to use against hundreds of thousands of lawsuits accusing them of knowingly manufacturing defective earplugs used by U.S. soldiers.

Since the beginning of this litigation, 3M has been denying the allegations and attempting to invoke the “government contractor defense,” which shields contractors from tort liability for defects in products designed and developed for the federal government.

Both 3M and the Plaintiffs filed opposing motions for summary judgment, seeking a ruling from the Court on whether the defense allows Defendants to claim immunity from design defect and failure-to-warn claims. 3M argued that they were entitled to immunity because the earplugs in question were designed to military specifications, and in close collaboration with the U.S. military. However, Plaintiffs argued that Defendants do not meet the elements necessary to invoke such immunity, and on Friday, Judge Rodgers agreed.

In her Order, Judge Rodgers ruled that there was “insufficient evidence, as a matter of law, to establish the elements of the government contractors defense” by 3M. Further negating the Defendants’ argument the earplugs were designed to any specific military standards, Judge Rodgers noted that 3M did not have a contract with the army, that the military was only a purchaser of the earplugs, and that there was no evidence that the military actively participated in discretionary design decisions for the earplugs. “The [earplug’s] design already existed — it came into existence without any input from the Army,” Judge Rodgers ruled. “Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is granted and Defendants’ motion is denied.”

Currently, there are thousands of Plaintiffs in the multi-district litigation, who received defective earplugs from Defendants, which left them with permanent hearing loss or tinnitus. This key ruling is a huge success for these Plaintiffs, as it allows their lawsuits, which include design defect and failure to warn claims, to move forward towards trial.

About the Author

Ashley B. DiLiberto is a recent graduate of Delaware Law School at Widener University. She is a a medical malpractice and personal injury attorney, licensed to practice to law in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.