American multinational conglomerate 3M has reached a settlement agreement to pay over $5.5 billion to settle hundreds of thousands of lawsuits filed by US troops. The lawsuits claim that 3M supplied defective combat earplugs to the military, resulting in hearing loss and tinnitus for more than 300,000 service members.
According to Bloomberg, the settlement will be paid out over a five-year period, pending approval from 3M’s board. When questioned about the agreement, a representative from 3M declined to comment on rumors or speculation.
The lawsuits against 3M were consolidated into a multi-district litigation, with current and former service members alleging that the earplugs provided by the company’s subsidiary, Aearo Technologies, between 2003 and 2015 were faulty and failed to adequately protect the users. The soldiers claimed that 3M was aware of the defect but did not inform the military or take any action to fix the problem.
During the trials, it was revealed that 3M failed 10 out of 16 early trials of the earplugs. As a result, the company has already been ordered to pay more than $250 million in damages to a dozen plaintiffs. However, the reported settlement will allow 3M to avoid a potentially much larger liability estimated at up to $9.5 billion.
Law professor Carl Tobias from the University of Richmond commented on the settlement, stating, “Sounds like 3M negotiated a pretty good deal for itself, given this litigation has been weighing on them for the better part of a decade.”
In an attempt to shield itself from the lawsuits, 3M had previously sought bankruptcy for Aearo Technologies. However, a judge ruled in June that the company’s financial troubles were not severe enough to warrant the bankruptcy procedure.
In addition to the earplug lawsuits, 3M also faced legal challenges related to water pollution claims. In June, the company announced a $10.3 billion settlement with various US public water systems to resolve claims associated with the use of “forever chemicals” or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in its products.
This significant settlement with the US military brings a resolution to a long-standing legal battle for 3M. As the company agrees to pay over $5.5 billion to compensate troops for the consequences of its defective earplugs, it shows a step towards addressing the impact of faulty products on the lives and health of service members.