3M has agreed to pay $6.01 billion to individuals who claim the company’s Combat Arms earplugs caused them to develop hearing loss and tinnitus. In a bankruptcy saga that rivals Johnson & Johnson’s, 3M fought tooth and nail to resolve 3M earplug lawsuits in bankruptcy court to limit its liability. Unlike J&J, 3M appears to have conceded following the dismissal of its subsidiary’s bankruptcy in June. Now, it seems that the conclusion to the largest multidistrict litigation in history is on the horizon, as 3M has announced a $6 billion military earplug settlement.
Rejection of Aearo Bankruptcy Earlier This Year
The $6.01 billion military earplug settlement is a significant departure from the $1 billion initially proposed by 3M in its bankruptcy plan in August 2022. Despite its standing as a lucrative multi-billion-dollar company, 3M insisted on shielding itself from the full financial by placing its subsidiary, Aearo Technologies, into bankruptcy. Outraged plaintiffs and lawyers viewed the plan as entirely unacceptable, as the $1 billion divided between the 250,000 plus plaintiffs would not be enough to account for lifelong disabilities related to their hearing.
With 3M refusing to handle cases through the MDL and attorneys challenging the validity of the company’s bankruptcy maneuver, the litigation reached a frustrating impasse. Judge M. Casey Rodgers, overseeing the MDL, paused settlement talks due to the parties’ inability to reach common ground. That is, until she allowed them to resume in May 2023.
Eventually, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey J. Graham dismissed Aearo Technologies’ bankruptcy on June 9, 2023, citing that the company was not in financial distress.
3M Reveals $6 Billion Military Earplug Settlement
This latest settlement announcement comes on the heels of a $10.3 billion settlement to resolve claims that the company contaminated numerous public waterways with PFAS. Shortly after a judge threw out the Aearo Technology bankruptcy, 3M released its offer of $10.3 billion to address PFAS water contamination lawsuits, not including firefighting foam personal injury claims.
On August 28, 2023, 3M settled with over 250,000 service members who allegedly experienced hearing loss or tinnitus after using the company’s military-issued earplugs. The settlement, which consists of $5 billion in cash and another billion in stocks, will be disbursed in payments between 2023 and 2029. The $275 million from the ten bellwether trials lost since 2019 is also part of the $6 billion military earplug settlement, which includes all claims in Florida’s multidistrict litigation, coordinated state court action in Minnesota, and potential future claims.
The $6 billion military earplug settlement, like 3M’s PFAS settlement, is still awaiting approval.