Discover more from Wrong Speak Publishing
3M Resolves Landmark Hearing Loss Lawsuits with $6 Billion Settlement
This substantial resolution, composed of $5 billion in cash and an additional $1 billion in 3M stock, will be disbursed over a series of payments spanning until the year 2029.
In a watershed moment, global conglomerate 3M has reached a settlement amounting to $6 billion, marking a significant stride in resolving an extensive legal battle involving military service members who assert experiencing hearing loss due to faulty earplugs manufactured by the company. This substantial resolution, composed of $5 billion in cash and an additional $1 billion in 3M stock, will be disbursed over a series of payments spanning until the year 2029. This announcement attempts to portray 3M as taking steps to mollify the grievances of veterans and active-duty service members, but it is an attempt that has been a long time coming given the extensive legal battles they face against 3M and its subsidiary, Aearo Technologies, acquired in 2008. The litigation primarily revolves around the Combat Arms Earplugs, which are alleged to have design flaws leading to hearing damage.
According to Reuters, the deal comes after a failed attempt by 3M earlier this year to move the lawsuits, which had grown into the largest mass tort litigation in U.S. history, into bankruptcy court in the hope of limiting its liability.
Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, & Overholtz PLLC, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, emphasize that the crux of these lawsuits centers on the claim that the earplugs' design permitted them to slightly loosen during use, thereby resulting in hearing impairment. Initially designed to shield ears from the intense noise generated by close-range firearms and other high-decibel sounds, the alleged design defects compromised their effectiveness, leading to the legal proceedings.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that the law firm underscored 3M's previous agreement to pay $9.1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the government, alleging that the company knowingly supplied the U.S. military with defective earplugs. Furthermore, the law firm highlighted trial outcomes since 2019, revealing that among the 16 cases that went to trial, 10 ruled in favor of plaintiffs, resulting in substantial financial compensations.
In response to the settlement, as noted by Fortune, 3M released a statement asserting that the agreement does not imply an admission of liability. The company continues to maintain that the products in question are safe and effective when used as intended. The statement further emphasized 3M's readiness to continue defending itself in the ongoing litigation if specific terms within the settlement agreement are not met.
Insights from The Wall Street Journal provided further context into 3M's earlier efforts to mitigate exposure to the earplug litigation. One strategy involved exploring the possibility of using bankruptcy court. In 2022, Aearo, operating as a separate entity, filed for bankruptcy, assuming responsibility for claims related to the earplugs. However, the bankruptcy filing was later dismissed by a U.S. bankruptcy court.
Additionally, the AP noted that this settlement follows another significant legal endeavor faced by 3M. In June, the company entered an agreement to pay a minimum of $10.3 billion to address lawsuits concerning the contamination of numerous public drinking water systems across the United States with potentially hazardous compounds known as per- and polyfluorinated substances, (PFAS) often referred to as "forever chemicals."
Finalizing the details of this agreement is ongoing, and the settlement payment could potentially reach as high as $12.5 billion. However, objections were raised by 22 attorneys general, contending that the proposed settlement was lenient toward 3M and could shift liability from the company to water providers.
In response to these objections, the AP cited that California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that while the objections were withdrawn, five attorneys general submitted an amicus letter expressing concerns about the settlement’s payments amount and timeline. Bonta stated:
“3M has agreed to modify its original proposed settlement in critical ways that will benefit the American people. However, 3M declined to pay an amount that accurately reflects the extraordinary damage it has caused to public drinking water systems, and it declined to provide water suppliers the money to remediate that damage more quickly.”
3M's landmark $6 billion settlement addressing hearing loss lawsuits brought by U.S. service members marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing dialogue regarding corporate accountability and consumer safety. This settlement seeks to address the concerns of veterans and service members who have reported damages stemming from faulty earplugs. As the compensation unfolds over the coming years, it underscores the intricate interplay between corporations, consumers, and the ethical responsibilities tied to product design and manufacturing. This case serves as a poignant reminder that corporate decisions carry profound consequences, directly impacting the lives of individuals.