3M Says It Will Pay $6 Billion to Resolve Combat Earplug Lawsuits

3M, the chemical and manufacturing giant, said on Tuesday that it reached a $6 billion settlement over claims that it had sold defective combat earplugs to the U.S. military.

The lawsuits were brought by military service members and veterans who claimed that the earplugs sold by 3M had led to hearing damage and tinnitus, a ringing sensation in the ears. 3M said that it would pay $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in stock as part of the settlement.

The earplugs, designed to protect service members from combat noise, were used by the military from 2003 to 2015. Tinnitus rates increased significantly among active duty service members from 2001 to 2015, according to a 2019 study.

3M did not admit liability under the settlement. “The products at issue in this litigation are safe and effective when used properly,” the company said in a statement.

“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,” the lawyers for the plaintiffs said in a joint statement.

3M’s share price jumped this week on news that a settlement was near, a sign that investors welcome the end of another one of the company’s major legal woes.

In June, the company 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, known as PFAS.

Lawsuits over the earplugs started in 2016, when Moldex-Metric, an industrial supply company, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit claiming 3M sold earplugs to the U.S. military knowing they had defects. 3M agreed to pay the Justice Department $9.1 million in 2018 to settle those claims.

Hundreds of thousands of suits were consolidated in a Florida federal court in 2019. Individual plaintiffs generally have had success in trials, scoring multimillion-dollar settlements. In May 2022, a Florida jury awarded James Beal, an Army veteran, $77.5 million in damages over his hearing loss and tinnitus.

The consolidated settlement comes after several attempts by 3M to avoid payment.

3M sought protection from liability as a federal contractor, an argument that was rejected because Aearo Technologies, 3M’s subsidiary and the maker of the earplugs, did not have a contract with the government.

Aearo filed for bankruptcy in 2021 in an attempt to limit its liability from the lawsuits. An Indiana bankruptcy judge dismissed the move in June, saying the company was financially stable and did not need bankruptcy relief.

J. Edward Moreno is the 2023 David Carr fellow at The Times. More about J. Edward Moreno

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