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3M Earplug Lawsuit - Status and Key Updates

Curious about the 3M Earplug Lawsuit? We explain the background of the lawsuit plus the latest updates on the 3M settlement in this overview.

evident Editorial Team
published
December 19, 2023
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Key Takeaways

Overview: 3M Earplug Lawsuit

The 3M Earplug Lawsuits have emerged as a significant legal battle involving allegations against 3M Company, a major multinational company. 

The lawsuits center on a particular product, namely the dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2). Thousands of current and former service members sued 3M, arguing that the earplugs were defective and led to hearing damage, among other medical conditions.

The earplugs were designed and manufactured by Aearo Technologies, Inc., a subsidiary of 3M.

The Allegations: Defective Design and Failure to Warn

At the heart of the lawsuits is the claim that 3M's Combat Arms Earplugs were defectively designed and that 3M failed to adequately warn users about potential risks associated with the earplugs. 

These earplugs were standard issue for military personnel deployed to combat zones between 2003 and 2015, a time period which included US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Dual-Ended Design and Alleged Flaws

The unique dual-ended design of the earplugs was intended to provide soldiers with two options for hearing protection. 

When inserted one way, the earplugs were supposed to function as traditional earplugs, blocking out all sound. When reversed, the Combat Arms Earplugs were meant to act as selective earplugs, allowing users to hear low-level sounds while still providing protection against louder noises (e.g. gunfire and explosions).

The lawsuits, however, assert that the earplugs were too short to be properly inserted into the service members’ ears, potentially leading to loosening and inadequate noise reduction. Plaintiffs argue that this alleged design flaw put military personnel at risk of hearing damage during their service.

Failure to Warn and Knowledge of Defects

Another crucial element of the lawsuits is the claim that 3M failed to adequately warn users about the alleged design defects and potential risks associated with the earplugs. Plaintiffs contend that 3M was aware of the defects but did not disclose this information to the military or individual users.

Impact on Military Personnel

The lawsuits represent a collective effort by veterans and active-duty service members who claim to have suffered hearing loss, tinnitus, and other auditory issues as a result of using the allegedly defective earplugs during their military service. These individuals argue that 3M's failure to address the design flaws and provide adequate warnings has had a lasting impact on their quality of life.

Scope of the Litigation

Hundreds of thousands of lawsuits have been filed against 3M related to the Combat Arms Earplugs. The cases have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL), streamlining the legal process and allowing for more efficient handling of common issues.

3M Earplug DOJ Settlement

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The legal woes for 3M in connection with their Combat Arms Earplugs began when a competitor filed a whistleblower complaint against the company. 

The whistleblower complaint was brought under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, which allow private parties to file suit on behalf of the government, and alleged the earplugs were defective and caused hearing loss and tinnitus among service members who wore them. 

In 2018, 3M agreed to settle those allegations with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for $9.1 million.

As often happens, though, the DOJ settlement was only the beginning of 3M’s earplug lawsuits. After the DOJ settlement, many veterans and service members who had been issued the 3M earplugs during their service alleged injuries in connection with 3M’s product.  

3M Lawsuit - Key Updates

Before delving into some of the history of the litigation, the most important thing to know about the 3M lawsuits is that, after much back-and-forth legal wrangling, 3M agreed to settle the lawsuits for $6.01 billion in August 2023. 

But let’s back up and explain how the 3M earplug lawsuits got to that point. 

Early 3M Earplug Lawsuit Proceedings

As mentioned, the legal woes for 3M began with the whistleblower complaint filed by a competitor in 2016. 3M ultimately resolved that qui tam whistleblower complaint with the DOJ for the modest sum of $9.1 million in 2018. But subsequent to the 3M DOJ settlement, individuals began filing 3M earplug lawsuits against the company. 

Many lawsuits were filed (over 300,000, in fact) against 3M regarding the Combat Arms Earplugs manufactured by Aearo Technologies. The case became the largest mass torts case in US history. These lawsuits were consolidated into an MDL (short for multidistrict litigation) in federal court in Florida in 2019.

MDL proceedings are different from a class action lawsuit, in which there is a single complaint and a handful of lead plaintiffs suing on behalf of a group. In MDL cases, many individual lawsuits are consolidated for the sake of efficiency as a judge manages the proceedings and resolves legal issues that pertain to the collection of lawsuits. 

Aearo Technologies’ Bankruptcy Attempt

As mentioned, the Combat Arms Earplugs were manufactured by a company called Aearo Technologies which was acquired by 3M in 2008

Aearo Technologies filed for bankruptcy, and the company, along with 3M, argued that the earplug litigation had gotten so large as to be out of control and that the only way to resolve the litigation was within the bankruptcy process. 

The judge rejected Aearo’s bankruptcy petition, though, holding that the company’s financial position did not warrant bankruptcy protection. The initial bankruptcy decision was handed down in August 2022. 3M appealed the decision, but it was ultimately upheld on appeal. 

These rulings related to Aearo’s attempts to seek bankruptcy court protection were crucial and allowed the plaintiffs to continue to seek redress from 3M.

3M Earplug Settlement 

The legal wrangling continued, but the federal court judge ordered 3M’s CEO to attend mediation in May 2023. As 3M’s attempts to appeal the unfavorable decisions related to Aearo’s bankruptcy and other attempts to shield the company from liability, progress towards a settlement finally resulted in a resolution. 

In August 2023, 3M reached a $6.01 billion settlement agreement with plaintiffs without admitting liability. Approximately 240,000 individuals are expected to be eligible to receive funds from the settlement, and the settlement proceeds are expected to be paid out between 2023 and 2029. 

The $6.01 billion settlement is a landmark result that resolves the largest mass torts case in US history. However, as reflected in the settlement timeline, it will still take considerable time for all veterans and active service members to receive compensation for their injuries.

3M Earplug Lawsuit – Chronology

  • 2003 - 2015: Combat Arms Earplugs were standard issue for military personnel.
  • 2016: A competitor filed a whistleblower lawsuit. 
  • 2018: 3M settled with the Department of Justice for $9.1 million to resolve the investigation resulting from the 2016 whistleblower allegation. 
  • 2019: The 3M Earplug lawsuits are consolidated into a Multi-District Litigation (or MDL for short) in Florida for more efficient administration of the hundreds of thousands of claims.
  • August 2022: The court made a crucial ruling which allowed the case to continue against 3M despite Aearo, the 3M subsidiary who made the products at issue, filed for bankruptcy
  • December 2022: The federal judge imposed sanctions on 3M and said the plaintiffs could continue suing 3M directly.
  • May 2023: The judge ordered the CEO of 3M to attend mediation.
  • August 2023: On August 29, 2023, 3M agreed to pay $6.01 billion to settle the lawsuits related to the Combat Arms earplugs.
  • October 2023: Judge Rodgers issued a warning to claimants after scammers began targeting eligible claimants of the 3M settlement. Following the settlement announcement, scammers began contacting potential claimants and impersonating the company that was appointed the settlement administrator in order to obtain sensitive personal information, such as Social Security numbers. 

As developments continue to unfold in the litigation process, it's essential to stay informed about updates through official channels and legal representatives.

What is the average payout for the 3M earplug lawsuit?

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Now that a settlement has been reached between the parties, many people are probably wondering how much can you expect from the 3M lawsuit?

The settlement process will take time to unfold, and it is still unclear what the average payout will be for the 3M earplug lawsuit. One law firm has estimated that payouts will range from $7,000 to $700,000, a substantial range.

However, it is important to remember that individual payouts from the 3M earplug lawsuit will vary among claimants based on the actual injuries a given claimant suffered due to the use of the defective earplugs.

If you have questions about the 3M earplug lawsuit and think you may be eligible for a claim, consider reaching out to one of the law firms assisting 3M claimants today.