On July 28, 2020, a Florida federal court ruling breached the central defense against claims certain military earplugs were defective, damaging the ear and causing hearing loss. The lawsuits claim the earplugs were improperly designed, and did not completely block loud noises common to the military, such as gunfire and or the operation of heavy machinery or vehicles. Neumann Law Group has previously written about the earplug litigation, and you can read that article here.
The defendant, 3M, attempted to invoke the ‘government contractor defense,” a doctrine that would relieve it of any liability even if it were proven to have produced and sold a defective product to the military. The Supreme Court articulated the government contractor defense in Boyle v. United Technologies Corporation, 487 US 500 (1988), which involved a wrongful death complaint made against a company that produced military helicopters—the plaintiff alleged the escape system in the helicopter was poorly designed, causing the death of a pilot.
The jury in Boyle found that the manufacturer was in fact negligent when it designed the helicopter, but the Supreme Court would eventually uphold an appellate reversal of the verdict. It outlined the strong federal interest in military equipment and concluded those interests outweighed any state law claims, but only when the federal government gave reasonably precise specifications for the equipment, the equipment conformed to the specifications, and the supplier warned the federal government of the danger involved in using the equipment to the best of its knowledge.
In the earplug case, the court held: “The [earplug’s] design already existed — it came into existence without any input from the Army . . . . 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.”
Although 3M will likely appeal the ruling, and will also continue to claim the product was not defective, the federal court’s decision that the government contractor defense does not apply to 3M is a major victory for plaintiffs seeking compensation for ear damage and hearing loss.
Neumann Law Groups attorneys stand ready to bring claims against the manufacturers of any defective product, including the 3M earplugs. If you or a loved one has suffered ear damage or hearing loss after military service or has been injured by any sort of defective product, contact the product liability attorneys at Neumann Law Group for a free consultation.