Santa Clara, CA3M announced in August that it reached a $6 billion settlement over defective earplug lawsuits brought by thousands of veterans and military service members who have suffered hearing damage. From 2003 to 2105 the military used the earplugs to protect them from combat noise, including in Afghanistan and Iraq. 3M earplug lawsuits—which grew into the largest mass tort litigation in U.S. history—claim that the chemical giant knew during those years that their earplugs were defective and they hid design flaws, skewed test results and neglected to provide instructions for the proper use of the earplugs.
Failed Bankruptcy Attempt
This settlement comes after 3M failed to move the lawsuits into bankruptcy court, in the hope of limiting its liability. Aearo Technologies, a company 3M acquired in 2008 and the maker of the earplugs, filed for bankruptcy
in July 2022, with 3M pledging $1 billion to fund its liabilities stemming from the earplug lawsuits. But an Indiana bankruptcy judge dismissed the bankruptcy move, saying that Aero was financially stable and did not need bankruptcy relief.
Other 3M Settlements
Almost 300,000 lawsuits have been filed against the giant chemical manufacturer by the military. In 2016 the first lawsuit was filed when an industrial supply company called Moldex-Metric blew the whistle on 3M, claiming it sold its earplugs to the U.S. military knowing they were defective.
- 2018: 3M agreed to pay the Justice Department $9.1 million to settle the whistleblower lawsuit.
- 2019: About 230,000 suits were consolidated in a Florida federal court.
- January 2022: A federal jury awarded $110 million to two U.S. Army veterans who claimed hearing damage because of 3M combat earplugs.
- May 2022: A federal jury in Florida awarded army veteran James Beal $77.5 million in damages over his hearing loss and tinnitus.
- June 2023: 3M reached a $10.3 billion settlement with U.S. cities and towns over their claims that the company contaminated drinking water with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
- August 2023, Reuters reported that of 16 earplug cases that have gone to trial, 3M has lost 10, with about $265 million being awarded in total to 13 plaintiffs.
“This historic agreement represents a tremendous victory for the thousands of men and women who bravely served our country and returned home with life-altering hearing injuries,” attorneys for the plaintiffs said in a joint statement and reported by the Washington Post
. According to the Wall Street Journal
, 3M stock has risen more than 6 percent since the settlement announcement. The litigation was estimated to cost 3M between $10 billion and $15 billion.
It Ain’t Over til it’s Over
READ MORE 3M DEFECTIVE EARPLUGS LEGAL NEWS
The average plaintiff would receive $25,000 unless they can prove they suffered serious injuries, Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor, told the Washington Post
. Compared to some individuals who settled for millions of dollars, some veterans may decide that amount is too low. According to the settlement, 98 percent of claimants must endorse it, or the deal can fall apart. In a press release 3M said it is prepared to continue to defend itself through litigation “if certain terms of the settlement agreement are not fulfilled.” The Post
reported that the settlement, to be paid out over six years, includes $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in stock, which is to be paid to plaintiffs based on a 10-day moving average price at the time it is issued, at which time it can be sold immediately.