A federal judge in Florida has harpooned a key legal defense that 3M planned to use against thousands of lawsuits accusing the company of knowingly making defective earplugs used by U.S. soldiers.


Maplewood-based 3M has denied the allegations and invoked the “government contractor defense,” which shields contractors from tort liability for defects in products designed and developed for the federal government. 3M has claimed that the earplug in question was designed in close collaboration with the military.

But U.S. District Court Judge M. Casey Rodgers ruled Friday that there was insufficient evidence “to establish the elements of the government contractors defense” by 3M.

“The [earplug’s] design already existed — it came into existence without any input from the Army,” Rodgers wrote in the ruling. “The Army never issued a request for a design proposal for the new earplug, there was no competitive bidding process during which the Army established design details for a new earplug from interested contractors.”

The lawsuits piling up in Florida — many from war veterans who said they have suffered hearing loss — stem from the Combat Arms or “CAEv2” earplug, which a company called Aearo Technologies began selling to the U.S. Army in the late 1990s. 3M bought Aearo in 2008 and continued to sell the earplug until just a few years ago.

Source: Star Tribune