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3M Nears $5.5 Billion Settlement Over Military Earplug Lawsuits




3M, a global science company, is reportedly on the verge of settling a monumental lawsuit pertaining to the earplugs they provided to the U.S. military. The earplug litigation is said to be the most substantial mass tort in U.S. history with over 300,000 claims filed by military veterans.

The Controversy

  • The crux of the issue revolves around allegations that the earplugs, initially developed by Aearo Technologies (a company 3M acquired in 2008), failed to shield military personnel from hearing loss due to noise damage.
  • Veterans assert that these earplugs could unnoticeably loosen in one’s ear, leading to defective protection.
  • While the tentative settlement amount is approximately $5.5 billion, Bloomberg reported that many analysts predicted the lawsuit would cost 3M between $10 billion and $15 billion.
  • In 2018, 3M consented to pay $9.1 million to the U.S. government over the allegations. However, the company maintained that the earplugs were effective when worn correctly.

Company Reactions

3M has consistently countered these claims, emphasizing that the earplugs function effectively when employed with the appropriate training. In the wake of the allegations, Aearo Technologies filed for bankruptcy as a separate entity, aiming to gain an advantageous position to negotiate a settlement. Nonetheless, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Jeffrey Graham in Indianapolis negated Aearo’s bankruptcy filing, highlighting the financial backing Aearo had from 3M for the settlements. The ruling is currently set for appeal.

Increased Scrutiny on Safety Products

Manufacturers could face intensified scrutiny on the quality and reliability of safety products. This heightened focus will not only be from regulatory bodies but also from consumers and stakeholders who now, more than ever, demand transparency and accountability. The 3M case is a stark reminder that even established brands with extensive experience aren’t immune to quality challenges.

Related Cases

Interestingly, this isn’t the only significant lawsuit 3M is addressing. A recent tentative settlement with municipal water providers could end up costing the company as much as $12.5 billion over the next five years, concerning ‘forever chemicals’ found in drinking water. 3M has vowed to cease the manufacture and use of these chemicals by the close of 2025. Furthermore, the conglomerate still confronts lawsuits from state attorneys general and personal-injury claims about these ‘forever chemicals’.

Stock Market Reaction

3M’s stock (MMM), a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, displayed a notable surge, rising 6.32% to trade at $105.10 in early Monday trading. This ascent mitigated the stock’s year-to-date dip to approximately 12.4%. The reported settlement has been a driving factor behind this surge, with shares rallying notably after the Bloomberg News report.

Earlier Whistleblower Lawsuit

In 2016, Moldex-Metric, Inc., a competitor of 3M, initiated a whistleblower lawsuit against 3M, alleging the company was aware that the CAEv2 earplugs provided to the government between 2003 and 2015 did not satisfy the military’s protective standards. This claim subsequently led to a cascade of complaints from veterans attributing their hearing loss or tinnitus to the CAEv2 earplugs’ shortcomings.


The ongoing negotiations and pending settlement underline the significant repercussions of product standards, especially when tied to the military. As 3M confronts this major lawsuit, the outcome will set a precedent for future cases of similar magnitude and nature. It’s worth noting the broader implications of such a substantial settlement. Companies worldwide, especially those engaged in manufacturing products meant for safety or protection, will undoubtedly be monitoring the proceedings closely.