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(Reuters) – A 3M Co subsidiary on Wednesday criticized the way federal courts have handled 290,000 consolidated lawsuits over allegedly defective earplugs it made for the U.S. military, saying that the “broken” legal system allowed claims to balloon and threatened the company’s ability to settle them.
3M subsidiary Aearo Technologies LLC pressed for, but did not get, a court order that would protect its parent company from the lawsuits at its first hearing in U.S. bankruptcy court in Indianapolis. Instead, it reached a more limited agreement with plaintiffs to pause work for three weeks, interrupting witness depositions and expert reports scheduled in the lawsuits, which have been consolidated in the largest-ever multidistrict litigation (MDL) in U.S. court.
Plaintiffs sued Aearo and 3M over the company’s Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 (CAEv2), claiming they are defective and damaged their hearing. The cases ballooned to a peak of more than 290,000 last year and now account for nearly one-third of all cases pending in all federal courts, according to a court filing.