Luke Vilsmeyer, 42, of Indiana, served in the Army from 1999 to 2020, first as a howitzer gunner and later as a Green Beret. His initial position in the army exposed him to the loudest and most potentially harmful noise levels possible.
According to Vilsmeyer's lawsuit, he used 3M's Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 for most of his time in the army. He believed the products should have protected him from the worst possible hearing damage he could get. But the earplugs did not work, and he later suffered permanent hearing loss and severe tinnitus. (Related: Routine MRI ruins a woman's life by making her so sensitive to sound that she can't go out in public.)
Following a 10-day trial, a jury in Pensacola, Florida decided that Vilsmeyer had adequately proved his claims that his hearing loss was caused by defects in 3M's earplugs. He was awarded $50 million. This was the second-largest amount won in litigation against 3M and was made up entirely of compensatory damages.
Vilsmeyer is not the only veteran to win a lawsuit against 3M. In Tallahassee, a jury awarded $8 million in compensatory damages to Army National Guard veteran Steve Wilkerson, who said using the earplugs did not protect him from developing tinnitus and hearing loss.
Wilkerson used the Army-issued 3M earplugs for several years during his time in the National Guard, which included a combat rotation in Afghanistan.
In its defense, 3M suggested that Wilkerson's alleged hearing loss and tinnitus were pre-existing and the result of him being part of a band playing guitar for many years before his time in the National Guard.
This counter-argument was not enough for the jury, who found that Wilkerson had sufficiently proven that his hearing damage was caused by the deficiencies in 3M's product.
Vilsmeyer and Wilkerson are among the more than 280,000 former and active military personnel who have sued 3M, claiming the company's combat earplugs are defective and have damaged their hearing. This is the largest federal mass tort litigation in American history.
In a statement, the lead lawyers for the plaintiffs in this massive lawsuit noted that 3M had already lost six earlier trials regarding its defective earplugs. These six previous trials combined won plaintiffs more than $160 million. Two veterans alone were awarded $55 million each.
"It is clear 3M's defenses – whether in the courts, to investors or the public – are unconvincing and without merit," they wrote in a joint statement.
The plaintiffs allege 3M hid design flaws, fudged test results and failed to provide wearers with instructions for the proper use of the combat earplugs.
3M's lawyers said in a statement that it was disappointed in the results of the Vilsmeyer and Wilkerson trials and will appeal. The company said the issues raised in its earlier appeals relating to evidentiary rulings and legal defenses applied to both cases.
"We remain confident in our case and will continue to defend our product and our record at trial and on appeal," wrote the company's lawyers.
Thirteen trials have already been concluded against 3M's combat earplugs. Three more bellwether plaintiffs are expected to go to trial in the next two months, including the case of Denise Kelley, which began on Monday, March 28.
This trial is expected to last two weeks. According to Ronald V. Miller, Jr., writing for Lawsuit Information Center Blog, if the jury sides with Kelley, it could be "the death knell for 3M."
Watch this video and learn about natural treatments for hearing loss and tinnitus.