3M board members agreed on Aug. 28 to pay $6.01 billion over the next five years to settle nearly 260,000 lawsuits that were filed mostly by U.S. military veterans who claim they suffered hearing loss or tinnitus because of faulty earplugs 3M sold to the U.S. government from 2003 to 2015, Reuters reported.  

Legal experts had previously estimated that 3M, in order to end the largest mass tort in U.S. history, would have to settle the litigation for anywhere from $8 billion to $25 billion, considering that Bayer AG settled 100,000 Roundup weedkiller cancer lawsuits in 2020 for over $10 billion. However, legal experts forecasted the higher settlement figure to be unlikely because hearing damage is not as egregious of a personal injury as cancer. Yet not all claimants in the multidistrict litigation (MDL) may accept the settlement terms. 

3M’s settlement offer comes after a U.S. bankruptcy judge in June rejected a plan by the corporation to declare bankruptcy for one of its subsidiaries, Aearo Technologies, the original manufacturer of the allegedly faulty hearing-protection devices, Combat Arms Earplugs version 2 or CAEv2. In 2008, 3M acquired Aearo Technologies, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July 2022. Under the restructuring plan for its wholly-owned subsidiary, 3M agreed to fund Aearo’s CAEv2 litigation costs for $1 billion, which are estimated at $500 million in just attorney fees. 

The dual-ended earplugs were designed to protect soldiers’ hearing while exposed to very loud sounds during training or battle while also allowing soldiers to hear quieter sounds such as orders from commanding officers. An alleged design flaw in the earplugs caused an unnoticeable loose fit that failed to protect the soldiers’ hearing. 

Judge Jeffrey J. Graham of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Indianapolis rejected Aearo’s bankruptcy plan, ruling that the company did not face financial hardship because it was well-funded by its parent company, 3M. Aearo has appealed the ruling. 

Prior to 3M’s attempt to resolve CAEv2 litigation via bankruptcy court, 16 bellwether cases in the MDL went to trial before U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers of the Northern District of Florida, with juries in 10 trials finding 3M liable for 13 plaintiffs’ hearing damage. Jury damage awards in the 10 3M trial losses totaled $300 million. Earlier this year, Judge Rodgers ordered both parties to make a good-faith offer to reach a settlement after an impasse. 

Hearing loss and damage is the top service-related disability reported among veterans, with over 1.3 million receiving compensation for tinnitus in 2020, Forbes reported. By the end of 2015, the number of active duty service members with tinnitus grew to 6.8 per 1,000 members from 1.8. 

If you have been harmed by a medical device, drug or consumer product, contact MedTruth for a free case evaluation. All of the firms we work with are based on contingency, and you’ll pay no fees unless a settlement is reached on your behalf.