Earplug. Credit: Thermchai/Shutterstock.com Earplug. Credit: Thermchai/Shutterstock.com

A federal judicial panel has sent more than 640 lawsuits to Florida that allege defective earplugs caused hearing problems in U.S. military service members.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation coordinated the lawsuits, brought against 3M, in an order on Wednesday, selecting U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers of the Northern District of Florida.

Many of the plaintiffs attorneys had supported districts in Minnesota and Missouri, and 3M had supported Minnesota, home of its headquarters. Other lawyers had pushed for districts in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, D.C.

But the panel appeared influenced by the national scope of the lawsuits.

“Centralization in this district allows the panel to assign this nationwide litigation to a forum with the necessary judicial resources and expertise to manage this litigation efficiently and in a manner convenient for the parties and witnesses,” wrote the panel’s chairwoman, Sarah Vance. “Judge M. Casey Rodgers, to whom we assign these proceedings, is an able jurist with experience in presiding over a large products liability MDL.”

Rodgers has been overseeing more than 2,000 lawsuits coordinated in multidistrict litigation over the antipsychotic drug Abilify. Lawyers in those cases notified her about a confidential settlement on Feb. 15.

Individual service members, primarily veterans, allege that 3M’s dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, used in both training and in combat, had a defective design that caused them hearing loss and ringing in the ears, called tinnitus. 3M was the exclusive supplier of earplugs to the U.S. military from 2003 to 2012. More than 800,000 former service members now suffer from hearing damage, according to the lawsuits.

3M agreed to pay $9.1 million last year to settle similar allegations by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In support of Northern District of Florida, plaintiffs attorney Bryan Aylstock, of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz in Pensacola, noted that the region has a “high military population density and close proximity to a large number of military bases.” He also noted that Rodgers had spent two years in the U.S. military.

3M, in its motion before the MDL panel, had accused some of the plaintiffs lawyers of forum shopping, insisting they were picking venues “with a large military presence or in front of a judge with military experience.”