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A big next step is about to happen in the 3M Combat Arms Earplug Products Liability Litigation, with the first bellwether trial in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) set to begin next month. It’s a consolidated trial of three cases – Luke and Jennifer Estes, Lewis Keefer, and Stephen Hacker – which allege that 3M Company’s dual-ended Combat Arms earplugs were defective and caused the plaintiffs to develop hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

To say the MDL is huge is an understatement. It has amassed more than 203,000 actions since 2018, surpassing the 1991 asbestos litigation as the largest MDL ever. When a case of this magnitude gets rolling, it’s never too early for everyone involved to have a game plan for a potential settlement.

Since MDLs by nature involve many plaintiffs – in this case, hundreds of thousands – as well as many attorneys, even more complexities arise when settlement talks begin. It’s critical to be ready well in advance. Tapping a professional settlement planning company for assistance is a strategic move and the best way to ensure all the plaintiffs and their attorneys get the most out of settlement. And, for the servicemembers in this MDL who face post-traumatic symptoms, having a settlement expert there to help financially plan for the long-term can bring additional comfort and confidence.

A qualified settlement fund (QSF) is the emerging standard of care for MDLs, as it independently supports the plaintiffs’ long-term planning needs as well as the lawyers’ business interests and personal wealth management goals. Also known as a 468b trust or litigation trust, a qualified settlement fund accepts the defendant’s payment of the agreed-upon settlement but then holds the monies in the account. Then, attorneys and their clients have adequate time to plan before they officially receive the income. Each plaintiff can consider their settlement planning options, including ways to preserve government benefits. Attorneys can assess whether they would like to defer their fees and get the resulting tax benefits. Meanwhile, lien negotiators can negotiate down liens against the plaintiffs as much as possible. There is no pressure to hurry up and finish with all these moving parts; each plaintiff and attorney can decide what’s right for them.

As a former Army captain and a longtime member of the civil justice space, efforts to protect servicemembers and their families are particularly close to my heart. My team and I are cheering on the plaintiffs and their attorneys in the 3M litigation, and we will be closely watching as they work to hold this company accountable.

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