The 3M Earplug case, one of the largest mass tort cases in U.S. history, has finally reached a settlement. On August 29, 2023, 3M agreed to pay $6.01 billion to settle the lawsuits.
The 3M Earplug Case Backstory
Between 2003 and 2015, Aearo Technologies Inc. and parent 3M Company manufactured and supplied the U.S. military with Combat Arms earplugs. These earplugs were standard issue in Iraq and Afghanistan for soldiers deployed during those years. However, thousands of military service members and veterans have sued 3M, alleging the company’s earplugs were defective and led to hearing damage from loud sounds on the battlefield or during training exercises.
The 3M Earplug Case Allegations
Plaintiffs in the lawsuits claimed that the company hid design flaws, fudged test results, and failed to provide instructions for proper use of the earplugs, leading to hearing damage. In 2016, Moldex-Metric, Inc., a California-based competitor, filed a whistleblower lawsuit against 3M claiming that 3M had been selling defective earplugs, knowing that they did not meet the standards for protection required by the government.
The Federal Case
The lawsuits were centralized under a Florida district court as an MDL in 2019 so they could be processed more efficiently and to reduce cost and duplication1. The litigation is known as 3M Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2885. There were 16 bellwether trials in the 3M earplug MDL, featuring the claims of 19 individual plaintiffs. The final win-loss record for plaintiffs in these 16 trials was 10-6, with most of the 6 losses coming in cases that were picked by 3M’s defense team. The total damages awarded in the 10 successful bellwether trials were $299,692,820.
The litigation had gone back and forth and grew into one of the largest mass tort cases in U.S. history. Both sides had won verdicts and negotiations seemed stalled, until 3M failed in an attempt to move the lawsuits to bankruptcy court. This attempt by 3M and Aearo to resolve the lawsuits through bankruptcy was rejected by a U.S. bankruptcy judge, saying that because 3M did not file for bankruptcy, neither it nor its subsidiary was entitled to protection.
After a series of intense litigation, 3M agreed to pay $6.01 billion to settle the lawsuits. This settlement will be distributed to approximately 240,000 eligible veterans between 2023 and 2029. The settlement arrangement is structured to involve cash payments and stock over a period extending through 2029.
ARCHER Systems, LLC has been appointed by the Court as the Settlement Administrator for the 3M Combat Arms Earplug settlement. In this role, ARCHER is responsible for executing the claims review process, resolving healthcare liens, distributing settlement proceeds, and other administrative services per terms of the settlement.
The Next Steps
With the identification process for all potential claimants completed, the next phase will soon begin. This phase allows plaintiffs to submit registration forms to obtain compensation for hearing loss and tinnitus injuries. ARCHER Systems, LLC, the appointed Settlement Administrator, will oversee this process.
This settlement marks a significant milestone in the pursuit of justice for the affected military service members and veterans. It serves as a reminder of the importance of corporate responsibility and the power of collective legal action.
SK Walker Law worked with the Onder Law Firm, which played a role in bringing about this resolution.
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