Sponsored By

3M Begins Payments in $6B Defective Earplug Settlement

In the first round of payments, over 30,000 veterans and active military personnel are expected to see their part of $253 million.

Katie Hobbins

January 18, 2024

4 Min Read
3M earplug settlement
AaronP/Bauer-Griffin / GC Images and Michael Sugrue / Stone via Getty Images

After years of litigation, 3M has begun paying out the first round of its $6 billion settlement to veterans and military service members for defective combat earplugs. The approximately $253 million first round will be distributed to over 30,000 past and present service members after it was alleged 3M’s Aero Technologies unit sold the military defective combat earplugs which caused hearing loss and tinnitus.

The earplugs were designed to protect users’ hearing from loud noises such as explosions but permit softer noises, like voices, to be heard. However, according to allegations, the earplugs could loosen in a wearer’s ear and were too short to work effectively. The lawsuit states that the defective gear was used over a 12-year period starting in 2003 and could be connected to a 15% annual rise of tinnitus claims lodged with the US Veterans Administration in 2023, according to legal documents. Also in 2012, there were 971,990 tinnitus claims reported.

3M and attorneys representing the over 300,000 claims agreed on the $6 million settlement in the latter half of 2022, settling on the company paying out the money over five years. The settlement amount offered for each claim is based on the degree of veteran impact to hearing loss or damage, ranging from between $7,000 to $700,000.

“The 3M earplug lawsuit settlement offers a range of compensation tailored to the degree of impact on veterans’ lives,” according to a statement from the law offices of Marin, Barrett, and Murphy. “Based on a variety of factors, individual payouts will vary between $7,000 and $700,000. This substantial range reflects the significance of the hearing loss (partial hearing loss or permanent hearing damage) suffered due to the use of defective earplugs during military service. Veterans who have experienced life-altering hearing injuries are eligible for compensatory damages that aim to address the impact on their quality of life.”

The litigation represents the largest mass tort in US history.

The settlement isn’t the company’s first foray into earplug litigation, however. In 2018, after a whistleblower lawsuit, 3M agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle civil litigation by the US Justic Department alleging that it knew and failed to disclose earplug defects to the military.

Additionally, the company lost 10 of 16 early trials over the earplugs, with over $250 million in awards going to more than a dozen service members. In 2022, one such trial loss for the company, according to previous reporting by MD+DI, saw Army veteran James Beal awarded $77.5 million in damages over his hearing loss and tinnitus in Florida. Beal tested weapons in the military over a four-year period starting in 2005.

Aaero filed for bankruptcy in 2022 with a pledge from 3M that it would pay for any settlement the company reached. The bankruptcy filing was then dismissed, with presiding court judge Jeffery Graham stating that “Aearo didn’t qualify for bankruptcy protections as long as it had 3M’s pledge to pay for a settlement,” according to previous MD+DI reporting.

Apart from the earplug settlement, 3M’s recent history has been bogged down by lawsuit issues, including many for the detection of PFAS:

• In December 2021, 3M and the City of Guin Water Works and Sewer Board in Guin, AL, reached an agreement to address PFAS in the area by contributing to the construction of a new drinking water treatment plant.

• In July 2022, the Flemish Government and 3M Belgium agreed that 3M would invest more than €571 million to benefit the people of Flanders — a northern portion of Belgium — and carry out certain previously agreed-upon PFAS-related remedial actions.

• In September 2022, 3M settled with the Zimmerman et al lawsuit in Grand Rapids for $54 million.

• In 2023, the company settled for $10 billion in a class action case combining multiple cities claiming its drinking water was contaminated with company associated PFAS. PFOS, a PFAS chemical exclusively made by 3M beginning in the 1940s, was a component in firefighting foams used by the military, airports, refineries, and fire departments for decades before it was phased out in the early 2000s, according to a previous MD+DI article. Additionally, the company agreed to pay as much as $12.5 billion to clean up drinking water supplies across the US that were tainted by PFAS.

About the Author(s)

Katie Hobbins

Managing Editor, MD+DI

Katie Hobbins is managing editor for MD+DI and joined the team in July 2022. She boasts multiple previous editorial roles in print and multimedia medical journalism, including dermatology, medical aesthetics, and pediatric medicine. She graduated from Cleveland State University in 2018 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and promotional communications. She enjoys yoga, hand embroidery, and anything DIY. You can reach her at [email protected].

Sign up for the QMED & MD+DI Daily newsletter.

You May Also Like