The American conglomerate 3M has been dealing with numerous earplug lawsuits for years and has now agreed to pay out money to those involved. As CNN reports, 3M agreed to a $6 billion settlement to resolve the lawsuits claiming the company's earplugs caused hearing loss in military users.
The massive settlement doesn't mean that 3M admits any guilt or wrongdoing. Here are all the details on the lawsuit as of August 2023 and what will happen next.
What is the 3M earplug lawsuit?
Rather than one single lawsuit, 3M has been the subject of about 300,000 lawsuits that allege the company provided earplugs to the military that were faulty, leading to hearing injuries, per CNN. The U.S. military used the earplugs made by 3M-owned Aearo Technologies between 2003 and 2015.
Reuters reports that 3M had attempted to move the lawsuits into bankruptcy court in order to claim less fault, since the case had ballooned into the "largest mass tort litigation in U.S. history". This endeavour was unsuccessful.
Plaintiffs in the numerous lawsuits claimed 3M hid design flaws, provided fake test results, and didn't provide instructions for proper usage, all of which led to hearing damage.
As The Washington Post reported, the lawsuits alleged that the earplugs could loosen in the ear, making them ineffective. Users could then suffer hearing loss or tinnitus.
The lawsuits against 3M were consolidated in a Florida federal court in 2019, Reuters explains. About 16 of the lawsuits have gone to trial, with 3M coming out on the losing end of 10 of them. Those verdicts and the associated $265 million in compensation awarded will be incorporated in the $6.01 billion settlement.
Here's the 3M earplug lawsuit update as of August 2023.
As 3M stated in a press release about the Combat Arms Settlement dated Aug. 29, 2023, 3M agreed to pay about $6 billion between 2023 and 2029, including $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in 3M stock. The company admitted no liability, stating: "The products at issue in this litigation are safe and effective when used properly. 3M is prepared to continue to defend itself in the litigation if certain agreed terms of the settlement agreement are not fulfilled."
Another tactic the corporation has used to avoid taking responsibility for the hearing loss suffered by members of the U.S. military is bankruptcy. Per Reuters, 3M argued the mass tort litigation was "unfair" because U.S. District Judge Rodgers, the judge assigned to the consolidated case, kept scientific evidence in 3M's favor out of trials. The Aearo bankruptcy filed in 2022 was eventually dismissed.
According to The Washington Post, at least 98 percent of eligible claimants must endorse the $6 billion settlement; if not, 3M could walk away from the deal. University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told The Washington Post that the award was smaller than expected and would be about $25,000 per plaintiff, unless they could prove serious injuries.
Professor Tobias noted that compared to some lawsuits of this type, where awards might be much higher, the $25,000 award could seem too low to some of the claimants in the 3M lawsuit case. So, while 3M has agreed to a settlement, it's not finalized as of August 2023.