The 11th bellwether trial in the 3M earplugs litigation ended yesterday with a sobering result for 3M. The jury in Sarasota awarded a total of $110 million to a pair of plaintiffs, Roger Sloan and William Wayman, which included $80 in punitive damages. This is by far the biggest verdict in the ongoing bellwether test trials involving 3M’s allegedly defective earplugs and the size of the punitive damage award should be a blast of reality for 3M. In this post, we will take a closer look at this blockbuster verdict and what it could mean for the future of the 3M earplug lawsuits.
Past Results in 3M Earplug Bellwether Trials
The trial that concluded yesterday was the 11th bellwether test trial in the 3M earplugs litigation (there have been 14 individual plaintiffs). 6 out of the bellwether trials have resulted in verdicts with sizeable damage awards to 9 individual plaintiffs. The 9 successful bellwether plaintiffs have been awarded a total of just under $162 million in damages.
The total amount of damages awarded against 3M so far in the bellwether trials is $161,992,820. Punitive damages against 3M account for $113.5 million of this total. The average damages awarded to the 9 successful bellwether plaintiffs in the earplug litigation is around $17 million. The smallest amount awarded to a single bellwether plaintiff has been $1,100,00 (Baker) and the largest award has been $55,000,000 (Sloan/Wayman).
$110 Million Verdict Dwarfs Previous 3M Earplug Verdicts
The 10th bellwether trial in the 3M earplugs litigation featured 2 consolidated cases: Wayman v. 3M Co. (7:20-cv-149) and Sloan v. 3M Co. (7:20-cv-001). Both Sloan and Wayman were U.S. Army veterans who alleged that they suffered hearing damage because 3M’s defective earplugs exposed them to loud sounds during their time in the Army. Wayman was a defense pick and Sloan was one of the plaintiffs’ bellwether picks.
The Sloan/Wayman trial began on January 10, 2022, at the federal courthouse in Pensacola, Florida. The 3M Earplugs MDL judge, Casey Rogers, presided over the trial. The plaintiffs presented their case for 9 days calling a host of fact and expert witnesses. 3M spent 3 more days presenting its defense case to the jury with testimony from a smaller number of experts.
Yesterday, the jury heard closing arguments from both sides in the morning and was sent back to deliberate in the afternoon. By the end of the day, the jury returned its verdict finding in favor of the plaintiffs on all claims. Wayman and Sloan were each awarded total damages of $55 million. This included $15 in compensatory damages for their hearing damage and $40 million in punitive damages.
The massive verdict in the Sloan/Wayman trial dwarfs all of the previous verdicts against 3M. The $110 million verdict, in this case, is actually twice as much as the total damages ($51,992,470) awarded in all of the previous bellwether trials combined. Both Sloan and Wayman each got $40 million in punitive damages which is more than the total amount of punitive damages ($33.5 million) awarded to the 7 other successful bellwether plaintiffs.
Significance of the Sloan/Wayman Verdict
The gigantic verdict in the Sloan/Wayman trial could potentially be a turning point in the continuing 3M earplugs litigation. None of the previous bellwether verdicts against 3M have generated much national attention or otherwise put 3M under much pressure to resolve the remaining claims. This is partly because many of the previous bellwether verdicts were comparatively small. A $2-3 million verdict against a massive company like 3M just isn’t going to “move the needle” very much.
The size of the most recent verdict in Sloan/Wayman (particularly the large punitive damage component) will hopefully raise enough eyebrows to put some pressure on 3M and prompt them to into a global settlement. We saw a very similar pattern unfold in the Roundup litigation. In Roundup, Bayer adopted a very defiant and aggressive defensive posture early on and refused to even acknowledge the possibility of a major settlement. Then Bayer got hit with three giant verdicts in the opening Roundup test trials. Bayer’s stock plummeted – as 3Ms did today – and they quickly raised the white flag and announced that they were negotiating a global settlement.
We can only hope that the $110 million verdict in the Sloan/Wayman trial has the same sobering effect on 3M. So far, 3M has been relatively successful in defending itself in the opening bellwether trials. There are currently 5 more bellwether test trials scheduled over the next few months. It is clear that the outcome of these trials is somewhat random, so 3M is rolling the dice each time. 3M has a winning percentage of 45% in the first 11 bellwether trials, but supersized verdicts like $110 million tend to overshadow everything.