3M has agreed to pay $6.01 billion to settle lawsuits brought by US military veterans and members of the military who claim they suffered hearing loss from using the company’s earplugs, the company and plaintiffs’ attorneys said on Tuesday with
The act comes after 3M’s failed attempt earlier this year to take what has become the largest class tort lawsuit in US history to bankruptcy court in hopes of limiting the company’s liability.
About 240,000 people are expected to be eligible for the settlement, Chris Seeger, one of the plaintiffs’ lead counsel, said at a news conference.
3M has the right to withdraw from the agreement if fewer than 98% of eligible applicants choose to participate, but Seeger said he is confident the threshold will be met.
The money will be paid out from 2023 to 2029 and provided $1 billion in the form of 3M shares, the company said in a statement.
The Minnesota-based company said it assumes no liability and that the earplugs are “safe and effective when used as directed.”
“This historic agreement represents a tremendous victory for the thousands of men and women who have bravely served our country and returned home with life-changing hearing impairments,” Seeger and his two lead attorneys, Bryan Aylstock and Clayton Clark, said in a joint statement.
Shares of 3M rose more than 2% on Tuesday. They closed 5.2% higher on Monday after earlier reports of an impending deal were shared.
Some analysts have estimated the company’s potential liability from the earplug litigation at up to $10 billion.
The Combat Arms earbuds were manufactured by Aearo Technologies, a company that 3M acquired in 2008.
They were used by the US military in training and combat from 2003 to 2015, including in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuits allege that the company concealed design flaws, falsified test results, and failed to provide instructions for the proper use of the earbuds, all of which resulted in hearing damage.
The lawsuits were consolidated in federal court in 2019 before US District Judge M. Casey Rodgers in Pensacola, Florida.
At its peak, litigation accounted for about 30% of all federal court cases nationwide.
Of the 16 cases in which earplugs were tried, 3M lost 10, with the 13 plaintiffs being awarded a total of approximately $265 million.
These judgments are included in the amount of $6.01 billion.
Aearo filed for bankruptcy in July 2022, with 3M pledging $1 billion to fund its liabilities from the earbud lawsuits.
3M argued that the mass tort litigation was unfair because Rodgers withheld scientific evidence favorable to the company from the court proceedings and allowed thousands of “unexamined” claims to swell the court’s record.
However, a bankruptcy judge in June dismissed the bankruptcy on the grounds that Aearo was not in sufficient financial distress to justify it.
Monday’s settlement comes just two months after 3M announced a tentative $10.3 billion deal with a variety of U.S. public water systems to settle claims of water pollution from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as ” eternal chemicals”.
That deal isn’t final yet, but cleared a potential hurdle on Monday when 22 states and territories withdrew their earlier objections to it.