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3M agrees to pay $6 billion to settle earplug lawsuits from U.S. service members

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NEW YORK — Chemical and consumer product manufacturer 3M has agreed to pay $6 billion to settle numerous lawsuits from U.S. service members who say they experienced hearing loss or other serious injuries after using faulty earplugs made by the company.

The settlement, consisting of $5 billion in cash and $1 billion in 3M stock, will be made in payments that will run through 2029. The agreement announced by the Minnesota company on Tuesday marks a resolution to one of the largest mass torts in U.S. history.

Hundreds of thousands of veterans and current service members have reportedly sued 3M and Aearo Technologies, a company that 3M acquired in 2008, over their Combat Arms Earplug products. The service members alleged that a defective design allowed the products — which were intended to protect ears from close range firearms and other loud noises — to loosen slightly and allow hearing damage, according to Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, & Overholtz PLLC, one of the law firms representing plaintiffs.

In an online summary about the Combat Arms Earlplug litigation, the Florida-based law firm notes that 3M previously agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle a lawsuit on behalf of the government alleging the company knowingly supplied defective earplugs to the U.S. military. And since 2019, the firm added, 3M has lost 10 of 16 cases that have gone to trial — awarding millions of dollars to plaintiffs to date.

Tuesday’s 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,” attorneys representing the plaintiffs said in a joint statement. “We are proud to have obtained this settlement, which ensures that those who suffered hearing damage will receive the justice and compensation they so rightly deserve.”

In Tuesday’s announcement, 3M maintained that the agreement — which includes all claims in Florida’s multi-district litigation, coordinated state court action in Minnesota, and potential future claims — was not an admission of liability.

“The products at issue in this litigation are safe and effective when used properly,” the company wrote. “3M is prepared to continue to defend itself in the litigation if certain agreed terms of the settlement agreement are not fulfilled.”

3M has previously tried to reduce exposure to the earplug litigation through bankruptcy court, the Wall Street Journal reported. In 2022, Aearo filed for bankruptcy as a separate company, accepting responsibility for claims, but the filing was later dismissed in U.S. bankruptcy court.

Beyond the earplug litigation, 3M in June agreed to pay at least $10.3 billion to settle lawsuits over contamination of many U.S. public drinking water systems with potentially harmful compounds. The deal would compensate water providers for pollution with per- and polyfluorinated substances, also known as “forever chemicals.”

The agreement hasn’t been finalized yet. Last month, 22 attorneys general urged a federal court to reject the proposed settlement, saying it lets manufacturer 3M off too easily.

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