Mike Roman is required to go to Florida this week to help resolve costly federal litigation against 3M military earplugs.
In an unusual move, a federal judge has ordered 3M CEO Mike Roman to personally attend mediation sessions aimed at settling the company’s long-running legal battle over allegedly defective military earplugs.
In one of the largest U.S. mass torts, 3M faces more than 200,000 lawsuits in U.S. District Court in northern Florida. On Friday, the judge presiding over those cases, Casey Rodgers, required Roman to appear at mediation sessions in Pensacola, Fla., scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
“Mediation discussions have progressed to a critical juncture where the most senior party representative leaders must be present,” Rodgers wrote. Every member of the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ settlement committee also must attend this week’s mediation.
“Roman must personally attend, and listen and engage directly with the mediators, so that his reports to the board of directors regarding the potential for global resolution of these cases are properly informed by firsthand knowledge,” Rodgers wrote.
3M declined to comment.
Tens of thousands of former and current military members allege that defective 3M earplugs — once standard military issue — damaged their hearing. Their claims against 3M were roped together in a “multi-district litigation,” or MDL, case in Rodgers’ court.
MDLs commonly feature bellwether trials that are supposed to set a tone for settling all claims. Military plaintiffs won 10 of 16 earplug bellwether trials in Florida, with juries awarding them nearly $300 million.
But the trials failed to spark a global settlement of all the lawsuits. So, Rodgers in June required formal mediation between 3M and plaintiffs’ attorneys. She terminated those talks in January after they failed.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys in late April asked Rodgers to resume mediation, noting that plaintiffs in a separate set of earplug claims in Minnesota were also seeking a “global” settlement and that renewed mediation would help everybody.
3M disagreed, responding that further mediation in Rodgers’ court wasn’t necessary, and that “nothing has materially changed” since January. The company said it is committed to ongoing mediation, but in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Indianapolis.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys have asked that bankruptcy court mediation be dismissed.
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